Magazine: About food regulations in an understandable way: The probiotics story

By: Szöllősi Réka Date: 2022. 01. 10. 06:44

According to a recent survey, almost 60 percent of Hungarians know what probiotics are and the majority of them are familiar with their beneficial effects. Besides, half of consumers are aware that probiotics can be food ingredients too, and the majority of them would like to see probiotics content indicated on food packaging.


Guest writer:
Réka Szöllősi 
food policy analyst

This is the situation in spite of the fact that it has been forbidden for nearly 15 years to make probiotics-related claims on food products. What is more, probiotics content can’t be mentioned in advertisements either. Consumers tend not to forget certain things and there are rather few areas where consumer opinion on the groceries available in shops is this positive.

Developing foods with probiotics content isn’t an easy task

Probiotics bacteria are very sensitive to the characteristics of the environment they are in, so numerous problems must be solved if we want to use them in food products, from selecting the right kind of bacteria strains through processing and storage to ensuring stability and function. Plus food companies must also pay attention to the fact that adding probiotics to food can change its taste and scent during storage. Even packaging can have an impact on the life span of probiotics.

Regulations and reality: a fragile balance

Currently the probiotics content of food can’t be communicated to consumers, because the nutrition and health claims regulation of the European Union requires an authorisation process: food makers can only claim certain things about their products if the statements are backed with thorough scientific documentation. More than 400 such authorisation applications have been made since the regulation entered into force, but the European Food Safety Authority only granted one.

It complicated things further that the EU published a guidance for the practical implementation of the regulation in 2007, and this mentions the expression ‘contains probiotics’ as one of the health claims, even though the ‘contains’ type expressions tend to belong to the nutrition claim category. This shows very well that sometimes the two types of claims can’t be differentiated.

Member states’ reactions

Since the adoption of the EU regulation and the publication of the guidance some member states have tried to solve this problem. Since last year Spain allows the use of the ‘probiotics’ term on foods and dietary supplements made in the country.

Based on the findings of the survey mentioned at the beginning of this article, we can say that both the Hungarian food industry and consumers would profit from a clearer and less strict regulation on the use of the term probiotics. //

The above article has also been published in Issue 2021/12-01 of Trade magazin.

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