Contaminated ingredients lead EU food safety alerts

By Rick Pendrous contact

- Last updated on GMT

Contaminated spices continue to be a big source of food safety alerts
Contaminated spices continue to be a big source of food safety alerts

Related tags: Food safety, European union

High levels of mercury in fish, aflatoxins – a type of mould – in nuts, and salmonella in fruit and vegetables, were among the most notified food safety risks last year across the EU, according to the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) 2015 annual report, released last week.

However, there was also a large increase in incidents associated with undeclared allergen contamination in spices and other foodstuffs, which are a potential risk to those suffering allergies to these ingredients.

The report, published by the European Commission’s (EC’s) Directorate General for Health and Food Safety (DG Santé), demonstrated the increased efficiency with which RASFF exchanged information on issues posing a serious health risk is being used.

The purpose of the network is to enable competent authorities in Member States – such as the Food Standards Agency in the UK – to act swiftly on many food safety risks before they become harmful to European consumers.

775 serious health risk

Last year, the EC received 3,049 notifications of food or feed risks via this EU-wide alert system, 775 of which concerned a serious health risk.

The response rate to such alerts increased by 23% to reach 4,030 follow-up notifications.

The overall figures represented a 3.4% decrease in original notifications compared with 2014 and a 5% increase in follow-up notifications, resulting in an overall increase of 2%.

RASFF’s round-the-clock information sharing service is a key tool to ensure quick cross-border reaction when risks to public health are detected in the food chain. The system – which began in 1979 – has evolved to keep pace with a growing and increasingly complex global market and changing consumer habits.

New challenges such as global trade, food fraud, e-commerce and emerging risks require further enhancing cooperation between RASFF and other systems governing food safety and public health. According to DG Sante, work on dealing with these challenges has already begun.

Allergen contamination

While the need for good allergen management is recognised by most reputable food businesses, the many notifications for the presence of undeclared allergens in 2015 showed that substantial efforts were still needed to ensure better pro­tection of consumers suffering from food allergies, said the report.

Although a particular issue regarding almond allergen caused much concern in 2015, a sharp increase in notifications was observed for quite a number of allergens.

In January 2015, the UK sent a RASFF report that there had been a number of food recalls in the US and Canada of ground cumin and products containing ground cumin, due to contamination with peanut protein and almond protein.

The ground cumin, exported to the US, was believed to have come from Turkey. It was suspected that these nut proteins had been added to some batches as a form of adulter­ation of the spice.

No further details were obtained about the cases reported in the RASFF news but in February 2015 the UK sent four alerts on undeclared almond in spice mixes and in cumin. Three of the notifications were traced back to spice mixes produced by a Swedish operator. The source was discovered to be a Span­ish paprika powder producer.

Curry powder in the US

Earlier this month, a massive US recall of curry powder occurred because of lead being detected within products. UK food safety expert Chris Elliot, professor of molecular biosciences at Queen’s University Belfast, took to Twitter to suggest that these recalls could be linked to contaminated turmeric in the curry powder​.

For more information on RASFF, the full report follow this link​.

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