Follow-up to the fraud of crushed almond shells in cumin: “Bart Ground Cumin” recall rescinded

On April 28, we reported the news of the detection of crushed almond shells in spices, especially cumin, paprika and various mix, at a level not yet identified of the supply chain, with the clear aim of financial gain. On this occasion, the results of the analysis were considered unreliable by Bart Ingredients, a British food company, which has highlighted the possibility of “false-positives” attributed to another ingredient, the “mahaleb”, extracted from a variety of cherry tree.

The 29th June, the Food Standards Agency has rescinded a recall of a batch of ground cumin sold by the Bart Ingredients Company. The affected product had tested positive for the presence of almond protein which is not declared on the label. This follow the same decision by CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) on other cases: few weeks ago, indeed, the Canadian authority detected the same issue.

Additional testing by the Laboratory of the Government Chemist (LGC) has shown a spice called mahaleb was present and not almond protein. Mahaleb and almond are from the same ‘Prunus’ family of trees and shrubs. However, mahaleb is not one of the 14 allergens identified in food allergen legislation. There is no evidence that the contamination was a result of fraudulent activity.

The level of almond protein detected was considered to be a risk to people with an allergy to almond. The company subsequently produced test results from samples of the same material that contradicted the positive result. 

Will Creswell, Head of Consumer Protection at the FSA, said: ‘Throughout this incident we have carried out protein and DNA testing, using accredited laboratories and validated methods, and both indicated the presence of almond protein in this product. Consumer safety is the FSA’s highest priority and our risk assessment at the time was that this product could potentially harm people with an allergy to almond. We were correct to ask Bart Ingredients to take precautionary action. Now that new evidence has come to light we are able to rescind this particular recall.

‘The FSA will now work with public analysts, analytical scientists, the industry and local authorities to review these testing methodologies. As with all significant incidents, we will also work together to review our actions and identify what lessons can be learned.’

LGC used a type of analysis called ‘liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry’ which, in combination with DNA testing, found that mahaleb could produce a false positive result for almond protein in cumin. This is the first time researchers have identified this type of reaction.

Michael Walker, Consultant Referee Analyst in the Laboratory of the Government Chemist, said: ‘This has been a pioneering and resource intensive scientific investigation involving a large multidisciplinary team of scientists. Almond and other Prunus species in spices had received little attention. We now know that ELISA detection is useful but only as a screening test. There are unusually high similarities in the DNA and protein of these related species that make it very difficult to tell them apart in spices. But thanks to the expertise of the molecular biologists and protein chemists in LGC we have developed what is, to the best of our knowledge, the world’s first DNA test for mahaleb and discovered subtle mass spectrometry differences to distinguish almond and mahaleb proteins.’

There have been several other recalls in the UK during this incident, the majority of which have been for undeclared almond in paprika products.  There is currently no evidence of cross-reactivity due to mahaleb in paprika. However, the FSA is doing further research to clarify this.

All other recalls in the UK associated with almond contamination of paprika still stand as the evidence presently available to the FSA suggests the affected products remain a potential health risk to people with an allergy to almond.

Thank God it’s Friday! Quick News from the food world (Week 43)

Here’s my article’s selection of the week:

EU

– Author: EU health claims laws cannot be bent for botanicals, by Bert Schwitters, on nutraingredients.com: nutrition author, blogger and harsh critic of the EU’s health claim laws, Bert Schwitters, says any attempt to create separate rules for more than 1500 on-hold botanical claim applications is doomed to failure in this guest article;

– Should energy drinks be age-restricted like alcohol? WHO official asks in report, by Annie-Rose Harrison-Dunn+, on nutraingredients.com: energy drink consumption among young people, particularly in connection with alcohol, presents a significant public health concern that warrants further research and regulation, according to a report authored by World Health Organisation (WHO) officials.

– GM regulations hold back innovation, say UK researchers, by Caroline Scott-Thomas+, on foodnavigator.com: current European restrictions on genetically modified (GM) crops could hold back crop innovation needed to ensure food security, claims a UK government-funded research body.

CHINA

– Amidst Public Controversy China Debates GMO Development, by John Balzano, on Forbes: an interesting article about China’s approach to GMOs and the doubts between treating GMOs like any other food and regulating them in a more specific way;

– China lifts 2013 ban on Fonterra infant formula ingredients, by Mark Astley+ , on dairyreporter.com: China has lifted its ban on the import of Fonterra two infant formula ingredients, more than a year after it was implemented in the midst of the 2013 botulism scare.

INDIA

– HC bans import of food additive Allura Red, on business-standard.com: the High  banned import of food additive Allura Red AC, also a colouring agent, after the country’s food safety authority admitted it was a prohibited chemical.

TAIWAN

 In pics: Two months of food scandals rocks Taiwan, by RJ Whitehead, on foodproductiondaily.com: recent reports that international furniture retailer Ikea has been using expired milk in its ice cream is the latest scandal to rock Taiwan. We take a look at a tense two months for food authorities and consumers as some of the island’s worst abuses came to light.

– New rules in Kaohsiung will give whistleblowers handsome cash reward, on focustaiwan.tw: Kaohsiung’s city council amended municipal food safety rules to offer whistleblowers 60 percent of fines levied on convicted companies — the highest cash award offered by any jurisdiction in Taiwan.

USA

– Quick fixes could quell rising tide of undeclared allergen food recalls, by Elizabeth Crawford, on foodnavigator-usa.com: simple changes in how food manufacturers handle and trace ingredients, packages and labels at production facilities could reduce dramatically the number of recalls due to undeclared allergens, which make up the vast majority of food recalls, according to FDA.

– Appeals Court Won’t Tamper With COOL, But Keeping It Could Be Costly, on foodsafetynews.coma decision by the U.S Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit stated that, unless the U.S. Supreme Court takes up the issue, domestic courts are fine with U.S. Department of Agriculture rules that require producers to keep track and report on the label on the birthplace, residence, and location at passing for each hunk of meat sold at retail in the U.S. regardless of the burden or cost.

– Report: Bait-and-Switch Tactics Found in One-Third of U.S. Shrimp Sales, on foodsafetynews.com: in the only known U.S. study using DNA testing on retail and restaurant shrimp, Oceana confirmed that 30 percent of the 143 products tested from 111 grocery stores and restaurants were misrepresented. It also found that consumers are often provided with little information about the shrimp they purchase, including where and how it was caught or farmed, making it difficult, if not impossible, for them to make informed choices.

WHO – NUTRITION LABELLING

– WHO calls for standardised nutrition labelling, by Caroline Scott-Thomas+, on dairyreporter.com: the World Health Organisation (WHO) has called for a more unified approach to front-of-pack nutrition labelling.