That’s according to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which will jointly host a one-day workshop on herbs and spices with the Seasoning and Spice Association, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and the Food and Drink Federation today (February 25).
Food businesses and the FSA had started looking for almond traces in foods last month after ground cumin and paprika tested positive for almond and peanut in the US.
Peanut traces hadn’t been discovered in any UK products, but almond was found in powdered cumin, powdered paprika and fajita kits. Food safety and allergen issues were called into question as a result.
Fraud and cross-contamination
Although experts had yet to identify how the products were contaminated, some have suspected fraud and others cross-contamination.
“Spices are an especially difficult area to manage because they come from a long way away and through very complex supply chains,” Clare Mills, professor of allergy at the University of Manchester, told FoodManufacture.co.uk.
Supply chain security in the main spice-producing countries, such as India, Africa and parts of Asia, will not be as stringent as in the UK and therefore more open to cross-contamination, she added.
“I think allergies in those countries are almost uncommon, so the cross-contamination of almond and a spice wouldn’t trigger an alert and, in some cases, it’s the least of their worries,” claimed Mills.
The spice supply chain was wide open to cross-contamination, Steve Osborn, principal consultant at the Aurora Ceres Partnership and former business manager at Leatherhead Food Research, confirmed.
There were many parts in the herb and spice supply chain subject to cross-contamination, which had to be identified by UK businesses to assure the safety of products, he added.
‘Plenty of touch-points’
“The big issue is cross-contamination with herbs and spices,” said Osborn. “In the whole supply chain, if you think about the route and how they are transported, there are plenty of touch points for cross-contamination.”
It was vital the FSA and the food industry identified those touch points as soon as possible to ensure consumer confidence wasn’t affected, Jason Feeney, chief operating officer at the FSA said.
“It’s important that consumers know that not only is their food safe, but that it is what it says it is,” he added.
Andrew Opie, director of food policy at the BRC said: “Convening a global supply chain analysis involving all the relevant parties should help us to build a better understanding of current controls to address weak points.”
Meanwhile, Santa Maria, the company at the centre of the almond contamination issue, had severed the relationship with its Spanish supplier, despite it being unclear how almond contaminated its products.