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Food Labeling, Nutrition and Risk Assessment


March 4, 2013


Food labeling is being scrutinized more and more these days.  Issues related to “100% All Natural”, “Trans-Fat Free” and “No Sugar Added” and “Genetically-Modified” are being called into question.  There are many lawsuits now challenging how companies label their products.

Dietary Exposure Assessment and Nutritional Epidemiology

Dietary exposure assessment is the process of evaluating human exposure to a chemical, microbiological, or physical agent present in foods. The ascertainment of dietary and nutritional exposures within human populations is a methodologically challenging undertaking. Thus, a multidisciplinary approach is needed to assess the relation between diet and disease occurrence. When examining the role that diet plays in health outcomes, Exponent relies upon the expertise of staff from a broad range of health and food-related disciplines.

Within the field of dietary risk assessment, direct and indirect approaches are possible. Direct methods estimate the intake of the compound of interest in individuals within a population subgroup. Indirect methods combine food consumption data with contaminant concentration data derived from different data sources. Dietary intake of a food component, such as a micronutrient; a food ingredient, such as a food additive; or a contaminant, such as a pesticide residue, is often indirectly estimated based on two parameters: (1) the concentration of the food component, ingredient, or contaminant at the time of consumption and (2) the amount of the food consumed. Exponent has acquired and processed data from several national and international food consumption surveys.

Risk assessment is a well-established tool in the area of food safety and non-nutrients. However, its application to the area of nutrient and related substances is emerging and evolving. Diet is a complex exposure medium such that risk mitigation strategy that focuses a single contaminant, nutrient or functional ingredient could have potential impacts on the overall diet without considerations for the overall health and nutritional status of the population. Nutritional relative risk assessment is an approach to systematically place a specific risk factor in context of other contributing risk factors, including health and nutritional factors, to the overall disease outcome. Outputs of nutritional relative risk ranking can be conveyed to risk prioritization scheme to elucidate mitigation strategy or to cost-benefit assessment.

Intake Assessments

Nationwide surveys such as USDA’s Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals (CSFII), CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), and the UK Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food’s national consumption surveys for adults, toddlers and young people are publicly available. However, proper analysis of the data from these surveys requires the use of specialized statistical methods to adjust for the complex sample designs. Exponent has the tools and experience to help you make sense of these data and routinely uses these data in nutrition and intake assessments. These assessments can be used by food companies for market research and product development.

Labeling Development

The volume of safety and nutritional information presented to people has grown dramatically in recent decades. Messages come in the formats of printed text appearing on products, instruction sheets, posted signs and web pages. The increasing amounts of safety and nutritional information add to the existing background of other information in our environment and can be confusing to consumers.  The Federal Trade Commission bases its legal actions to challenge food products characterization, such as “natural” or “healthy”, as false advertising on the possible perception by consumers.

Human factors and Food & Chemical Regulatory consultants at Exponent provide technical assistance in the development of safety information for products, environments, and processes. Past experience has included the development of safety information for consumer goods, recreation and fitness products, medical devices and products used in the workplace and transportation, among others. For any particular project, the warning development process is tailored to the individual product or activity. The process often involves a combination of the following activities.

  • Analysis of existing databases and the published scientific literature to identify patterns of unsafe behaviors or adverse events
  • Prioritization of risk based on the frequency and severity of injury associated with unsafe behaviors
  • Reference to both general and specific product or industry standards and regulations offering guidance about risk communications practices
  • Examination of what is “state-of-the-art” in risk communication for a particular product or industry
  • Development of specific language, pictograms, or auditory signals for potential warning messages with the input from product users and potential users
  • Validation of comprehension of proposed safety information through additional user testing

Exponent’s Food and Nutrition Team

Our food and nutrition specialists have extensive experience in the food industry, government, and consulting, and recognized expertise in dietary exposure and safety evaluation, food science, nutrition, and labeling and regulatory compliance support. Exponent provides regulatory strategy and conducts safety assessments for food additives, generally recognized as safe (GRAS) substances, and new dietary ingredients, and prepares the scientific support for claims, including health, nutrient content, and structure/function. We also provide dietary intake estimates for the U.S. and other countries. 

Our epidemiologists and statisticians conduct large scale critical reviews and primary data analyses of dietary and nutritional factors as they relate to a variety of health outcomes, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, infant allergy, childhood and adult obesity, and behavior and lifestyle patterns. Exponent’s team of epidemiologists work in tandem with personnel from our Chemical Registration and Food Safety Center, whose focus has been in the area of dietary exposure assessment and modeling for estimating long-term health benefits and risks related to diet. Exponent’s regulatory specialists’ database on U.S. food consumption is regularly updated to contain the most currently available data.