The food industry could face an unsustainable bill for product recalls if the Food Standards Agency continues to adopt a zero tolerance approach to illegal food dyes, legal firm Eversheds LLP has warned.
Speaking ahead of tomorrow’s meeting at the European Commission to discuss how to co-ordinate member states’ approaches to spice contamination, Eversheds National Head of Product Liability Richard Matthews, said: “The level of the dye in the ingredient spice is very low and undetectable in the end products.
“There appears to be a high degree of consensus within the industry that the response of the Agency is disproportionate to the actual risk to health. Of course, the costs of recalls should not influence decisions concerning food safety or public health, but where there is no real safety concern, the effect of the recent recalls is to add significant additional layers of costs which need to be absorbed in a sector that has seen margins squeezed to breaking point and could see small suppliers going bust.
His comments followed a spate of product recalls in recent weeks as banned industrial dyes Para Red, Orange II and Rhodamine B were discovered in a clutch of food products as the industry stepped up testing programmes in the wake of the Sudan 1 scare.
While there has been European Union certification regime for Sudan dyes in place since 2003, the other dyes - which are also banned under the 1995 Colours in Food regulations - are not routinely tested for, said Discovery Foods md James Beaton.
“The cost would obviously be prohibitive if you have to conduct separate tests for all these separate dyes in every batch of every ingredient.”
While, there is currently no legal obligation to certify products as free of all the substances banned under the 1995 Colours in Foods regulations, due diligence would now require that testing regimes were stepped up as they were obviously slipping through the net, he said. “There are probably things out there that we aren’t even aware of and they will all come out of the woodwork now as companies step up testing.”
Phil Lynas, md of The Grocery Company, which makes Nando’s sauces, added: “We’re spending about £20,000 a year on random testing, which comes straight off the bottom line. They really have to nip this in the bud at source.”
Laboratories have been overwhelmed with enquiries in recent weeks, said Ian Gadsby, business development manager at Reading Scientific Services, which carries out testing for the illegal dye for manufacturers. He said: “We have a screen-test which picks up all the Sudan dyes, but you have to test for the others separately. I don’t think people really know what they should be testing for from a legal standpoint in order to satisfy due diligence.”
Food Standards Agency director of food safety Dr Andrew Wadge said: “We are pleased that the European Commission is going to develop a European-wide approach to tackling this issue. Concerted action across Europe is the most effective way forward.”