The 'butter yellow that wasn’t' incident at Bakkavör’s Welcome Food Ingredients plant in Nottingham occurred when Trading Standards officers detected that samples of turmeric used in a meat glaze were contaminated with the illegal compound methyl yellow, said Steve Hessey.
In a keynote address to Leatherhead Food Research’s food safety conference last week, Hessey reported that while “certainly not a small problem”, since it had affected around 139 batches from 27 products, good risk assessment and risk management procedures combined with speedy action were effective in minimising the damage caused. The result was that very few products had to be withdrawn.
“With the help of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), we managed the incident quite smoothly,” reported Hessey. “Our traceability systems helped us have a rational conversation with the FSA.” He described the support of the FSA as “fantastic”.
What the incident taught Bakkavör, though, he added, was that it is crucial to question the reliability of analytical tests carried out, because until picked up by inspectors, the company’s test results had suggested that the ingredients were clear of contamination.
He also cited a potential problem with the storage of bulk ingredients such as flour, for example, where silos are often “topped up”, making traceability of sources far more complicated.
Hessey said that while traceability systems ranged from manual to electronic and hybrid approaches, Bakkavör, like many others in the chilled foods sector, still mainly used manual systems. “My mantra is simple is best,” he said.
He added that the areas where things commonly go wrong range from transcription errors to missing codes and labels on products.
In other cases, overly complicated codes (eight digits) and making changes were the source of errors.
“There are all kinds of places where things can go wrong. It all depends on your people having the right level of understanding.”