Denbighshire County Council confirmed to FoodManufacture.co.uk that the insect was discovered by the woman, who bought three Birds Eye chargrilled chicken steaks from a Denbigh supermarket in October.
Having cooked the steak she discovered what she thought was a dried maggot, but after a later joint investigation by the council and Birds Eye confirmed that the foreign body was a dehydrated caterpillar, which the firm said contaminated cracked pepper used to coat the product.
Liaising with suppliers…
A Denbighshire County Council spokesman said its food safety team
carried out a “thorough investigation” as soon as it received the complaint.“We have been in touch with the complainant and with the company and we are satisfied that this is an isolated incident,” he said.
“A decision on whether or not to take action is taken on a case-by-case basis. As this was an isolated incident and we have spoken with the company, we feel it is not necessary to take further action in this instance.”
Stressing the council’s conclusion that the case was an isolated one, a Birds Eye spokesperson told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “We work daily to maintain rigorous food manufacturing standards across all points in our supply chain.
“We are currently liaising with our suppliers to find out how this may have happened. The matter has also been investigated by the local Environmental Health Department who confirmed that they are satisfied with the procedures we have in place.
“Most importantly, this posed no risk to health and we have apologised and offered a full refund for the inconvenience caused.”
Monitor critical control points
Tony Hines, head of food security at Leatherhead Food Research said that such incidents are unfortunate for food manufacturers, where other than monitoring "critical control points" throughout the production process and stressing the importance of such measures to suppliers, there was little else they could do to cut out such incidents entirely.
Hines said: "Birds Eye could spend tens of thousands of pounds to possibly determine where the contamination occurred: whether it entered with the raw materials (bearing in mind that pepper is a natural product sourced from countries faraway such as Vietnam), via process contamination or contamination in the home. But is this in anyone's interest?"
"Environmental Health officials would have quickly eliminated any possibility of prosecution, which would have been a waste of public funds given that any firm with a rigorous HACCP [Hazard Analysis Criticial Control Point] process has a watertight due diligence court defence in such a case. Most probably officers would also have looked at the company's complaints record, where it stressed this was an isolated case."
Independent food safety consultant Dr. Slim Dinsdale from Food Safety Experts said that the Birds Eye case was unusual, in that most instances of insect contamination usually involved mites in flour, or insects in natural products such as fresh vegetables and salads, “where enforcers accept occasional small insect contamination”.
Dinsdale said: “As long as the firm can prove that it took due care then these cases usually go no further, although the authorities usually take a very dim view of things like cooked bluebottles.”
He added that in some of the “very few [insect contamination] cases” he had seen, consumers fabricated claims about finding insects in food to claim damages for personal injury.
“Insect contamination is much less common than, say, salmonella, and if I were presented with an insect presence that I couldn’t readily explain after making checks across the supply chain, I would have to look at other reasons why it was there.”