QeA to EU Commission – Aflatoxin content of almonds: “aflatoxin free”?

Question for written answer to the Commission
Giovanni La Via (PPE) – 13th July 2016

Subject: Aflatoxin content of almonds

Aflatoxins are mycotoxins produced by fungal species belonging to the class of Ascomycota (Aspergillus, Fusarium), or other moulds. They are highly toxic and are believed to be among the most carcinogenic substances that exist. They are often found in high quantities in Californian almonds, grown in California (USA) and exported to Europe in significant quantities. EU Regulation No 165/2010, amending Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 setting maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs as regards aflatoxins, has increased the levels for aflatoxin total in almonds from 4 ug/kg to 8.10 ug/kg. The Avola almond, cultivated in the Syracuse area of Sicily, is one of the most well-known and best Italian almonds and has a zero aflatoxin content.

Does the Commission not, therefore, consider it appropriate, in order to protect consumers, to authorise the words ‘aflatoxin-free’ in almonds which, after being tested, are shown to contain no traces of this substance?

Answer given by Mr Andriukaitis on behalf of the Commission – 10th August 2016

Commission Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 establishes strict maximum levels for aflatoxins in almonds providing a high level of human health protection. Only almonds compliant with the maximum levels for aflatoxins can be placed on the EU market.

Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 does not provide for labelling requirements related to the presence of contaminants, including aflatoxins.

Aflatoxins are mycotoxins produced by fungi primarily Aspergillus sp. These fungi are also present in Italian agricultural environments. There are no almond varieties resistant to infection by these fungi. Fungal growth and aflatoxin production occur in almonds pre-harvest, but may proliferate in storage and continue in the handling stage. The growth of the fungi is strongly influenced by climate and they are more common in warm regions with extreme variations in temperature, rainfall and humidity. The fungi can produce aflatoxins at quite low moisture levels and over a broad temperature range (13-37 °C).

The Commission does not have at its disposal the information necessary to compare the level of aflatoxin contamination in recent years in almonds from California compared to almonds grown in Sicily. However it is evident from the conditions in which the fungi Aspergillus sp grow and aflatoxins are formed, and the absence of aflatoxin resistant almond varieties, that there are no almond producing regions in the world where aflatoxins do not occur in almonds at all. It is therefore of major importance to apply prevention measures during growth, storage and handling to keep the levels of aflatoxins in almonds as low as reasonably achievable.

(Source: EU Parliament)

FDA Investigates Listeria Outbreak Linked to Frozen Vegetables

The FDA, CDC and state and local officials are investigating a multi-state outbreak of listeriosis identified in March 2016.

The CDC reports that eight people infected with the outbreak strains of Listeria monocytogenes have been reported from three states (California, Maryland and Washington) from September 2013 – March 2016. Ill people ranged in age from 56 to 86, with a median age of 76. Epidemiology and laboratory evidence available at this time indicates that frozen vegetables produced by CRF Frozen Foods of Pasco, Washington, and sold under various brand names are one likely source of illnesses in this outbreak. As discussed further below, CRF Frozen Foods has initiated a recall of certain products.

As part of a routine product sampling program the Ohio Department of Agriculture collected packages of frozen vegetable products from a retail location and isolated Listeria monocytogenes from True Goodness by Meijer brand frozen organic white sweet cut corn and frozen organic petite green peas. Both products were produced by CRF Frozen Foods.

Whole genome sequencing showed that the Listeria monocytogenes isolate from the frozen corn was closely related genetically to seven bacterial isolates from ill people, and the Listeria monocytogenes isolate from the frozen peas was closely related genetically to one isolate from an ill person. This close genetic relationship provides additional evidence that the people in this outbreak became ill from eating frozen vegetables produced by CRF Frozen Foods.

Based on the positive findings by the Ohio Department of Agriculture, on April 22, 2016, CRF recalled 11 frozen vegetable products because they may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. On May 2, 2016, following a conversation between FDA, CDC and the firm, CRF Frozen Foods expanded its recall to include all of its frozen organic and traditional fruit and vegetable products manufactured or processed in CRF Frozen Foods’ Pasco facility since May 1, 2014. Approximately 358 consumer products sold under 42 separate brands were recalled.

Additionally, March 2016 environmental samples collected by FDA from Oregon Potato Company, located in Pasco, WA, were found to be closely related genetically to seven of the isolates of ill people associated with this outbreak. Based on this information, Oregon Potato Company voluntarily recalled wholesale onion products, which led to subsequent downstream customer recalls, one disclaimer icon of which publicly disclosed Oregon Potato Company as its product source. FDA is working to identify other parts of the relevant supply chain that may have product relating to this outbreak.

(Source: FDA website)