June 22, 2021

The Mercadona Advisory Scientific Committee: guardians of food safety – The Province

Andreu Palou, Andrés Otero, Luis Pla, María Pilar Vinardell, Juan José Badiola, Arturo Anadón and Daniel Ramón, at the Madrid headquarters of Prensa Ibérica. Photo: Álvaro Hurtado

He Mercadona Scientific Advisory Committee just turned 16 and consolidates the strategy of the leading supermarket chain in Spain to guarantee food safety on the products you sell through the advice and advice of six qualified researchers from the field of nutrition, biotechnology, plant and animal health, microbiology, toxicology and cosmetics. At the headquarters of Iberian Press in Madrid, this group of experts has accessed analyze your career and perspectives for the next times in which the firm chaired by Juan Roig – in the midst of the great challenge of digitalization in the sector- faces new habits and consumer trends.

Monitor traceability

This "committee of wise men" meets every six months, although it holds more frequent and bilateral meetings with the Quality department. According to Mercadona's Quality Director, Luis Pla, which coordinates a team of 20 people, "an independent, scientific, transparent and independent external advice of recognized international prestige It is an invaluable help and great technical support to always guarantee the quality and food safety of our products. It also helps to be proactive with the changes and go ahead. "The committee participates in the commissioning of section ' Ready to eat', in the strategy of buying meats, fruits or fish, as well as in cosmetics, among other actions.

"The consumer is increasingly asking for food benefits." Andreu Palou

"The company makes great efforts, for example, to improve animal welfare and ensure food security. We have now examined hundreds of suppliers, who are now specialists. Before there were fewer companies to validate. When buying from farmers and farmers, or fishermen in fish markets throughout Spain you need to verify traceability well, that is, the whole process from its origin until it reaches the table, "says Badiola, who achieved notoriety as a specialist during the crisis of the" crazy cows ", the one that sank the European beef sector two decades ago. consumers are increasingly demanding and their concern is perceived, for example in the wake of the latest food crises such as listeriosis. It is not the doctors who control the food, rather a team and personnel specialized in health and food safety, "explains the professor in Animal Pathology.

The microbiologist Andrés Otero argues that "contributing to food security in all Mercadona processes introduces the concept of ' microbiological health of products"In that sense, remember that they have fully contributed to the launch of the aforementioned section. 'Ready to eat'. "That has required monitoring of products and processes that have food, how they are transported, what facilities are like, or what practices workers should follow when handling those products. A system has been designed so that all stages are met. every day, "says Otero. This researcher points out that the control mechanism must be "always" prepared to "solve specific problems. There is no quality if there is no food safety"he points out.

Additive Control

Among the range of work undertaken by this group of experts is the monitoring of the revisions that the panels of expert scientists continuously carry out on the safety assessment of additives so that it allows to react in advance as to its uses or dosages.

"We monitor many chemicals and additives." Arturo Anadón

According to the toxicology expert Arturo Anadón, the reduction and progressive replacement of plastics, as required by legislation, has been another great area of ​​work. "There is no other solution, you have to reduce and replace them wherever you can," he says. Also follow closely the possible contamination that can generate contaminated seeds. Or, mycotoxins, substances from fungi and that in Europe usually come from third countries. Further, you have to see a lot of additives, waste, pesticides or chemical agents", points out Anadón.

Cultured meats

Regarding nutritional trends, Andreu Palou, indicates that it has passed to a situation "more advanced in which the consumer asks for more benefits to food. And so is reflected in the European legislation itself by closely monitoring the sugars, salt or saturated fats so that the consumer has all the information on the labeling, "Palou explains. "Our work is to advise, in a scientific and understandable way, so that the Mercadona consumer has truthful information and that it appears well on the label and for this we collaborate with the Mercadona prescription department".

"Mercadona is ahead and wants to always know the mixtures and components." Daniel Ramón

When talking about the so-called 'new foods' Palou recognizes that a world without borders opens up. "There are insects or meats grown in the laboratory. Proteins are sought in other foods. We will see," he adds.

In that sense, he reflects that cultured meats, made from stem cells extracted from animals, have already been raised by some researchers. Its promoters defend the benefits for animals, the environment and the reduction of the carbon footprint. "Already we are 7.2 billion inhabitants in the world. And the problem of food and sustainability is not solved with urban gardens, "says bioetechnologist Andreu Palou when addressing these issues.

"Animal welfare and traceability are key." Juan José Badiola

Custom nutrition

"Mercadona wants to anticipate the problems", Explain Daniel Ramón. This researcher emphasizes that "fraud by improper mixtures They are also a constant object of work. The analysis of the components and samples of a product of both vegetable and animal origin is basic and Mercadona differs greatly from other competitors. "Daniel Ramón comments that the scientists of this committee they hold debates and formulate orientations on transgenic or superfoods.

"European legislation is changing and different from that of the United States." María Pilar Vinardell

"We want to know what is really in what public opinion conveys. In addition, personalized nutrition also comes," he adds. This option is the best alternative for those who want to lose weight with a healthy diet, or to solve other population profiles, whether children, youth or the elderly. Note that this option is " the future to prevent diseases"One third of the health problems, especially those related to chronic diseases, respond to inadequate food. Thus, custom feed It can contribute to the prevention of some pathologies such as dermatitis or psoriasis, among others.

"The 'Ready to eat' section has been revised, there is no quality if there is no food safety." Andrés Otero

And what precautions should be taken for the future? The president of the Scientific Advisory Committee of Mercadona recognizes that its main brands, such as Hacendado, are perceived for their high quality. "The present and the future of food security is fundamental. A food crisis could be devastating," says Badiola. Luis Pla remarks that " The sooner the experts are asked, the better. Today's consumer trusts the products he consumes. He does not question food security, he takes it for granted. Though you have to be very hipster, on the basis that everything can always be improved, "he concludes.

Cosmetic surveillance and commitment to healthy products

In this management model that seeks total quality, Mercadona wants to advance in areas such as the reduction of plastics, waste management or healthy products, among other matters. Cosmetics have maximum attention.

The toxicologist María Pilar Vinardell stresses the importance of guaranteeing the safety of "all those products that we apply to our skin to improve its condition, where shampoos or gels come in, and that according to the definition are also 'cosmetics' ".

He warns that European Union legislation is quite clear about safe products and ingredients. "Although everyone wants natural products Keep in mind that plant or mineral raw materials should be monitored, because they may be more insecure than those from the laboratory. There are European directives that describe prohibited products that are authorized in the United States. This is the case of some articles with pharmacological effects, "he adds.

The Mercadona bet stands out, which also promotes training among workers related to these areas of the firm, "by the reduction of microplastics, as well as ingredients that can cause allergies, and the elimination of parabens from the formulation of their perfumery products, "explains Dr. Vinardell.


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