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Last update: May 2021

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INSECT: Enthomophagy, a new research challenge for Secalim

Towards risk-benefit assessment of insect-based food products

Context and challenges: Entomophagy now appears as a promising strategy to ensure food security for growing populations while developing healthy and sustainable alternatives. It raises many challenges requiring an understanding of insect products in a multidisciplinary way. In Europe, these products fall within the scope of Regulation (EU) 2015/2283 known as “Novel Foods”. Before being placed on the market, they require the examination of a scientific and technical dossier by EFSA aiming, among other things, to demonstrate their innocuity on the basis of a global risk assessment considering the entire production chain / processing / marketing / consumption, with regard to biological, chemical, physical and potential allergens hazards. The Secalim team, specializing in the assessment and control of the microbial risks of meat matrices as well as in risk-benefit assessment, is developing its activities by participating in several projects on insects, putting its expertise at the service of the challenges of tomorrow.

Results: The first objective was to identify and characterize the microbial hazards associated with the main species considered for mass production through a state of the art. Insects are eaten in their entirety, including the digestive tract, which carries many potential hazards: bacteria, parasites, viruses, prions, yeasts, molds, mycotoxins, histamines as well as genes for resistance to antibiotics. For each category all the specific hazards have been identified and detailed, thus establishing a long list of hazards of concern. The main routes of contamination are the substrates used in rearing as well as human handling. The hazards must be controlled by the application of good hygiene practices as well as the implementation of a safety management system on the production and processing sites.
The second objective was to control the biological hazards during insect processing by developing a HACCP plan for the manufacture of mealworm powders (Tenebrio molitor). To do this, the identified hazards were classified using a semi-quantitative approach to define a short list of significant hazards. Then, the effectiveness of the critical control points of four manufacturing processes was evaluated using predictive microbiology models. Next, four potential consumer uses for the powders were evaluated, considering potential uses in steaks, protein shakers, baby porridges, and cookies. This theoretical exercise was also the subject of the implementation of these four processes with a search / count of indicators and significant dangers at each stage.

Perspectives: Assessing the health risks-benefits associated with the consumption of insect-based products, taking into account the microbiological, nutritional and toxicological aspects, in the context of the substitution of beef, constitutes the objective of the NovRBA project in which Secalim participates over the 2018-2021 period, funded by EFSA. More broadly, the team participated in several national and international calls for projects aimed at including the environmental, economic and social dimensions in a comprehensive approach.

See also

  • Kooh, P.; Ververis, E.; Tesson, V.; Boué, G.; Federighi, M. Entomophagy and Public Health: A Review of Microbiological Hazards. Health (N. Y.) 2019, 11, 1272–1290, doi:10.4236/health.2019.1110098.
  • Kooh, P.; Jury, V.; Laurent, S.; Audiat-Perrin, F.; Sanaa, M.; Tesson, V.; Federighi, M. and Boué, G. Control of biological hazards in insect processing: application of HACCP method for yellow mealworm (Tenebrio molitor) powders. Foods. Submitted, under review