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Edible Insect Proteins as Novel Foods Need More Understanding and Oversight

By Suzanne Osborne

Edible insects have a long history of consumption in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, but they have only recently appeared in Western diets. Nutritional and sustainable to produce, insects may be a solution to future global food security.

Despite a history of being safely eaten, there is limited scientific data on the risks of foodborne pathogens in edible insects. The industry lacks best practice guidelines and there is no regulatory framework to ensure the safe production or processing of insects as food. Current limits for biological hazards are primarily extrapolated from the allowable limits in other foodstuffs. Since pathogens have unique growth, behaviour, and transmission patterns in different foods, these extrapolated limits are insufficient to ensure food safety.

Despite a history of being safely eaten, there is limited scientific data on the risks of foodborne pathogens in edible insects.

The Presence of Microbial Hazards in Edible Insects

Research shows that edible insects naturally harbor a large number of microorganisms, yet common pathogens such as Salmonella, Escherichia coli, Campylobacter, and Listeria monocytogenes are consistently absent from tested samples. Instead, retail samples routinely test positive for Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium, and Bacillus cereus which still pose a risk to human health. This suggests that edible insects have unique bacterial hazard profiles compared to traditional food animals. To date, mycotoxins have been detected in low levels in edible insect products as well as their feed substrates. The fate of mycotoxins and their metabolites in individual insect species is unknown.

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