Cross-contamination and mislabelling causes most product recalls

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Recalling problems: Of the 55 alerts issued last year by the FSA, 45 involved product recalls
Recalling problems: Of the 55 alerts issued last year by the FSA, 45 involved product recalls

Related tags Food safety Food

Factory contamination of food and drink by pathogens and physical contaminants continues to present problems for the industry, according to an assessment of the reasons behind food alerts issued last year by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Of the 55 alerts issued last year by the FSA, 45 involved product recalls or withdrawals due to contamination of products. While last year’s horsemeat contamination scandal was a major focus of public, political and media attention, the number of recalls associated with it were low – just three.

Most recalls were the result of bacterial, rodent/insect or other chemical cross-contamination; mislabelling; or because products were made in unapproved premises. However, six were due to the suspected presence of physical contamination occurring during production or distribution.

Another recall by Fentimans, occurred because of a potential weakness in its drinks’ glass bottles.

Processing problems

Processing problems caused five recalls: Plum Baby Foods recalled some ready-to-eat baby food products because of a manufacturing defect that could cause food spoilage; Tesco recalled various ambient ready meals because a production fault, which meant rice in some products could become mouldy during storage; and Morrisons recalled its Carvery Chicken and Stuffing because of possible undercooking.

Elsewhere, some milk and cream products made by Dunn’s Dairy of Beacon View Farm, Devon, were recalled because of cross contamination of milk and insufficient heat processing; and Johnson & Johnson had to recall batches of its Benecol yogurt drink, because of possible yeast fermentation.

Deliberate tampering of products remains, thankfully, relatively rare. However, one recall by Tesco of its own-label Chocolate & Nut Ice Cream Cones, was issued as a precaution because of the discovery of pain relief tablets​ within two individual cones.

Physical contamination

According to Detectamet, a company that supplies food safe detectable products as a protection against physical contamination, food packaging contamination threats are bigger than many people recognise.

Recent internal industry reports on sources of physical contamination of food found that at least 34% of incidents involved process and product packaging, claimed Detectamet. A number of these incidents occurred when bits of pallet wrap – perhaps from pallets of incoming ingredients – get into the process flow, it claimed.

Several companies have asked the company to supply them with detectable pallet wrap, and this has been of particular interest to ingredient suppliers wanting to protect their customers from accidental contamination.

“I was surprised at the numbers when they came in,”​ said Detectamet ceo Sean Smith. “We produce many metal detectable plastic products that help to reduce contamination of finished food product and several of them have been made at the specific request of food production companies.

“When customers started to ask for detectable wrap I asked how big was the problem and the data I was given helped us to realise the size of the challenge.”

‘Food contact safe’

As a consequence Detectamet has introduced a new 30 micron detectable ‘food contact safe’ pallet wrap which is said to offer good levels of detectability in metal detectors while remaining resilient in use and resistant to the problems of tearing.

Meanwhile, Campden BRI is holding a seminar​ on factory contamination control on March 4.

In most hazard analysis critical control point (HACCP) systems, cross-contamination risks are controlled and managed predominantly by ‘prerequisite programmes’, but a good understanding of those risks is essential for the HACCP plan to be implemented effectively.

The seminar will explore some of the key issues – from the organisms of most concern, such as salmonella, cronobacter, listeria and Escherichia coli, through the mechanisms of transfer and prevention – such as antimicrobial surfaces – to practical aspects of risk assessment and implementation of prerequisite programmes.

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