While investigations into the source of the contamination were still underway in the US, Chris Elliot, professor of molecular biosciences at Queen’s University Belfast, took to Twitter today (August 19) to say that he suspected the incident might be linked to contaminated turmeric contained in the curry powder.
Elliott, who led the UK government’s review of food systems following the 2013 horsemeat scandal, told FoodManufacture.co.uk he was also looking into the possibility of similar contaminated products entering the UK food chain.
Lead in curry powder
On August 12, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported a product recall by Miami-based Oriental Packing Company for lead in curry powder. The company recalled about 171,364kg of various curry powder blends because they were contaminated with lead.
According to the FDA, lead can accumulate in the body over time and can cause serious and sometimes permanent adverse health consequences.
While the product was distributed in New York and Florida and was sold through both internet sales and retail outlets across the US, no illnesses associated with the product had been reported to date, said the FDA.
A week earlier, on August 5, another recall concerning lead contamination in turmeric was reported by the FDA. In this case, JM Exotic Foods Incorporated recalled the turmeric products because samples from its supplier were found to contain elevated levels of lead.
On this occasion, the product was solely distributed to a farmers’ market in Doraville, Georgia until August 2016. No illnesses were reported to date.
It is not known whether the two case are related, however. FoodManufacture.co.uk contacted the FDA for further information on both incidents, but no response had yet been received as we published this article.
While the FDA has not set a specific limit on lead in spices, there is a limit of 0.1 part per million (ppm) in candy. The US Environmental Protection Agency has stated that lead levels of 0.015ppm in drinking water require treatment.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) reported that it was aware of the spice recall in the US, but was not aware of any of the implicated products being distributed in the UK. It added that there had been a similar recall in US in 2013.
“According to our database we have not dealt with any similar incident involving lead contamination of spices here in the UK,” said an FSA spokesman. “We can confirm that the UK does import spices, such as curry, from US."
Limits for lead
Another FSA spokesman confirmed that, as for the US, there were no specific limits set for lead levels in spices in the EU, although there were upper levels for lead in foods generally.
“The FSA is aware of the recent recall relating to high levels of lead that were found in spice products in the US,” said the FSA spokesman. “We are not aware of any distribution of the implicated products to the UK or any similar cases. If elevated levels of lead were found in spice products in the UK, the FSA would undertake an assessment and take appropriate action to protect consumers.
“In the UK, there is legislation to protect consumers from contaminants in food. This includes maximum limits for lead in a range of foods and these limits apply to food produced in or imported to any EU Member State, including the UK. There is no specific maximum limit set for lead in dried spices but there remains a legal responsibility on food business operators to ensure that the food they sell is safe to eat under general food law.”
Product recalls will be discussed at Food Manufacture’s one-day food safety conference: ‘Boosting consumer confidence in times of change’, which takes place in London on October 13 and includes a session on ‘Product recalls: dealing with a crisis’.
This will include presentations on ‘Crisis management’ by Dominic Watkins, a partner at legal firm DWF; ‘Damage limitation following an incident’ by Jeff Hosking, head of major/ complex claims and Helen Rich, technical specialist in complex claims, at insurer RSA; and ‘Minimising the damage from recalls’, by Dr Vince Shiers, md of crisis management consultancy RQA.
For full details of the conference programme visit: www.food-safetyconference.co.uk