Sudan 1: EU commissioner criticises food industry over 'old stocks'

Related tags Food European union Sudan Uk

Brussels called an emergency meeting of scientific experts
yesterday as the paper trail on the illegal red chemical dye sudan
1 extends to member states; and the recall of food products in the
UK tops 450.

The European Commission expressed concern to the €700 billion European food and drink industry that despite imposing a ban on sudan 1 more than 18 months ago, the ingredient had turned up in force.

Health commissioner Markos Kyprianou clearly laid responsibility with the food processors.

"Old stocks of chilli from before June 2003 appear still to be used by food processors. Certain industrial operators have not faced up to their responsibilities and cleaned up their stocks of raw material,"​ he said yesterday.

Sudan 1 to IV are classified as carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and are banned under European Union rules imposed in July 2003.

Brussels now requires that imports of chilli and chilli products - including curry powder - cross the EU border with proof - a certificate - they are free of the illegal chemical dyes - sudan I to IV.

But last week the UK's food watchdog notified local authorities that chilli powder contaminated with sudan 1 had been detected in Worcester sauce supplied by UK food maker Premier Foods.

Used as both a tabletop sauce and food ingredient, the discovery prompted the UK's Food Standards Agency to pull all related products, such as Sainsburys pork sausages and Tesco's chicken and vegetable casserole, out of the consumers' reach. Yesterday the watchdog added 146 products to the growing list, bringing the total number of affected products to 474.

Looking into how the contamination leaked into the food chain, Premier Foods said last Friday that it had certificates from its suppliers that guaranteed the chilli used was free of sudan 1.

If this is the case, and as highlighted by Kyprianou, contamination occurred because the processors used old stocks that pre-date the EU emergency measures.

Premier Foods confirmed to that the stocks were brought in before July 2003.

But failing to double check and test the "old" ingredient prior to using in formulations post-2003 has made the food processors vulnerable.

And they are now exposed to penalties.

David Statham, director of enforcement at the FSA reminded the food industry yesterday that companies failing to ensure that "food placed on the market is safe and fit for human consumption can face prosecution under the General Food Regulations (no longer under the Food Safety Act)."

Local authorities, not the agency, are responsible for taking forward any prosecution that can range from a £20,000 fine and six months in jail from a magistrates court to two years in jail and an unlimited fine imposed by the Crown court.

And as the UK continues the recall that may not yet have reached its peak, a traceability paper trail reveals that member states are also vulnerable.

Maximising the communication flow between EU members, the nation states use the EU's Rapid Alert System (RASFF) to alert other states of any Sudan dye discovered in products already on sale in the EU, or in consignments rejected at EU borders.

At a RASFF meeting this week a UK delegate informed members that of the 200 recipients of the Worcester sauce identified by the UK authorities, at least 20 had sent products to other member states.

The Commission criticised the UK for communicating to other member states on any new recalls "through their website and not through the RASFF system".

The UK delegate stressed "that it is very difficult to trace back the processed production"​, a statement that failed to satisfy Brussels, in turn reiterating the need for the UK "to identify all the clients which have received the contaminated sauce".

For the UK's £69.4 billion food and drink industry, this process is well underway. A spokesperson for the Food and Drink Federation told yesterday: "The speed at which this ingredient has been traced shows the efficiency of the system."

Related topics Food safety and labeling

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