Consumer safety

Ensuring Unilever products are safe for our consumers to use.

SEAC uses the latest science and technology in its work, constantly looks to develop through embracing new scientific developments and working with the best scientists externally.  We publish our findings in peer-reviewed journals, and regularly present our research at international conferences and seminars.  Some examples of our work within consumer safety are given below.

Microbiology Risk Assessment

The Microbiological Safety Team provides risk assessments to assure the microbiological safety of our products and technologies. One area where risk assessments have been extensively applied is for the provision of safe drinking water by in-home microbiological water-treatment systems. These help reduce exposure to contaminated water, particularly in developing countries where many people rely on boiling or bottled water. Unilever is working to provide affordable, safe and sustainable solutions, under the Pureit brand. SEAC’s risk assessments ensure that the waterborne hazards (bacteria, viruses and protozoa) are removed or reduced to safe levels. The team collaborates with external experts to evolve our capabilities for the application of novel technologies in drinking water treatment.

Toxicological Risk Assessment: Threshold of Toxicological Concern (TTC)

TTC is a structured decision tree approach to assess the risk from ingredients and contaminants in products where consumer exposure is suitably low, allowing us to avoid unnecessary animal testing.  Based on chemical structure, a tiered system of scientifically justified TTC levels has been developed; human exposure of a chemical at or below this level can be supported.  The approach is accepted by regulatory bodies such as the US FDA and EFSA, and scientific bodies including the WHO.  We use TTC to support ingredients such as flavour components in food and colours in personal care and homecare products.

Toxicology Risk Assessment: Food Allergy

We want our food products to be safe for all consumers, including those with allergies. In addition to labelling products properly, we recognise that allergic consumers deserve choice.  We want to avoid using “may contain” statements except where the product could pose a risk to people with a food allergy.  We collaborate with scientists and allergy specialists to understand “how much is too much?”, so that we can refine our production processes to achieve levels that do not pose a risk and keep the number of products with “may contain” to a minimum.  We also work closely with food safety authorities and patient groups to understand better how to clearly communicate allergen-related risks.

SEAC workshops

Toxicology testing in the 21st century 

In 2011, a two-day symposium held in Shanghai and organised  by SEAC, introduced leading Chinese toxicologists, regulators and government officials to a new concept in toxicology testing: ‘Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century’(Link opens in a new window)

SEAC scientists are developing the TT21C concept and approach in collaboration with a number of influential North American opinion formers. It has the potential to have a huge impact on Unilever's agenda in the use of non-animal approaches for assuring consumer safety.

The symposium generated a high level of interest in working with Unilever . It recommended new Chinese-based and potentially government-funded research, a Chinese Toxicology Society follow-up symposium on TT21C to their 3000 members, and other training/education activities and publications. This new science could contribute to changes in the regulatory environment and strengthen Unilever’s networks with top Chinese universities, research institutes and government agencies such as the Chinese State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) and National Centres for Disease Control.

T Lymphocytes: Orchestrators of Skin Sensitisation workshop

On May 24th-25th 2010 a two-day workshop was held in London to re-evaluate how we might better exploit our understanding of the roles played by T cells in the induction and elicitation of skin allergy and how increasing our understanding of these immune pathways could help underpin future non-animal risk assessment decisions. Eight SEAC scientists and thirteen experts in dermatology, immunology and mathematical modelling attended. It included perspectives on current approaches to risk assessment, the role of T cells in skin allergy and our ability to mathematically model the T cell response. Breakout groups captured the key questions and proposed novel research strategies capable of answering them.

Workshop participants gained a good insight into the strengths and limitations of applying current immunology research and mathematical modelling techniques to T cell responses. The concepts defined during the workshop underpin our research strategy for developing a mathematical model on the human immune response to skin sensitisers, capable of predicting adverse/non-adverse thresholds for a given chemical sensitiser exposure. The output from this workshop has been published [Kimber et al (2012) Toxicology, 291 18– 24]