Looking back over red flags from the EU Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) over the past few years, labelling issues relating to allergens declarations certainly stand out. But a food label contains many other pieces of information.
Recalls due to expiry dates, traceability and language use, for example are less widely reported, but still just as important for labelling compliance.
‘Use by’ dates are used on highly perishable foods that could be unsafe after the date and constitute an immediate danger to human health. ‘October’ was recently erroneously used in place of ‘September’ on beef tartare from Italy, thus extending the ‘use by’ date by a month and causing a recall.
With such a long difference in date on a short shelf-life product, it’s easy to see why that happened. Yet, a far shorter extension of two days for chilled beef from Belgium produced a similar outcome.
The global sourcing of ingredients means that traceability throughout the supply chain is more important than ever and it is a vital tool when a problem is identified. For this reason, products must, by law, carry traceability information.
The absence of a lot code or an identification mark hampers traceability, but there are a surprising number of rapid alerts where essential traceability information is missing from the pack: peanuts from China, frozen octopus from Peru, rice noodles from China and eggs from Spain are a few examples.
While goods can move freely between EU Member States, numerous RASFFs have been caused by language errors on-pack. Mandatory food information needs to appear in a language easily understood by the consumers of that country. So, chocolate candies sold in the Netherlands but not labelled in Dutch were subject to a rapid alert in July 2019, for example.
In an ever-changing regulatory environment, simple labelling errors can result in major food safety implications and costly product recalls.