EFSA report on emerging risk – Plastic rice frauds listed

Last week the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published its annual report on emerging risks. The top 10 risks were defined as follows:

  1. Outbreak related to the consumption of raw beetroot in France;
  2. Growth of Vibrio spp in Northern waters and TTX detection in European bivalve shellfish in UK;
  3. Putative new influenza virus that has been identified in livestock species (cattle and swine) in Belgium;
  4. Risks from the consumption of bitter apricot kernels from Greece;
  5. Increase of deoxynivalenol and zearalenone levels from Italy in 2014;
  6. Dermatitis due to raw or undercooked Shiitake consumption from France;
  7. Increased incidence of Salmonella Infantis in broiler meat from Croatia;
  8. Zoonotic spread of CPE/CPA from Finland;
  9. Artificial plastic rice from UK;
  10. Yersinia pseudotuberculosis outbreak in raw milk from Finland;
  11. Hay as food or food additive from Austria;
  12. Oxalic acid in green smoothies from Germany;
  13. Natural occurrence of bisphenol F (BPF) in mustard from Switzerland.

The report is of extreme interest and each investigation worth a look, but due to my insane passion for food frauds, I will report the specific findings about the “artificial plastic rice” from China.

Artificial plastic rice – Description of the issue

In 2011 reports began circulating in media across South East (SE) Asia that artificial (plastic) rice was being produced in China, which was subsequently being sold in towns such as Taiyuan in Shaanxi province.

The issue was raised in 2013 by European Parliament seeking clarification on whether the Commission was aware of the practice, and if so, what safeguards were in place to prohibit artificial rice from entering into the EU.

A briefing note was prepared by the UK for discussion by EREN, Emerging Risks Exchange Network.

The European Commission response of 20 September 2013 to the Parliamentary question states that rice products originating in China are subject to Commission Implementing Decision 2011/884/EU, recently amended to Commission Implementing Decision 2013/287/EU, which stipulates consignments of rice originating from China can be released for free circulation only if accompanied by analytical report demonstrating it is GM free and a health certificate issued by the Chinese competent authority (AQSIC) certifying the rice has been produced, sorted, handled, processed, packaged, and transported in line with good hygiene practice.

In October 2015 EFSA received a pressa article from an ECDC colleague from their Epidemic Intelligence monitoring. The information on ‘plastic rice’ was apparently found in several media that week. This rice is likely to be commercialised throughout Asia according to some media. The rice is produced using a mix of potatoes, sweet potatoes and plastic. It is formed by mixing the potatoes and sweet potatoes into the shape of rice grains, at this point industrial synthetic resins are then added.

It would appear that appropriate tools are in place which reduces the risk of affected products entering the EU, nevertheless, the UK would like to encourage a discussion on the subject, firstly to highlight the practice, but also to consider whether a risk of entry into the EU still remains via third country involvement.

Key points from the discussion, the conclusions and the recommendations

The INFOSAN Secretariat received several inquiries from INFOSAN members in Asia as concerns over fake rice were perpetuated in the media. The Secretariat reached out to INFOSAN members in China to inquire about this event and to verify or dispel the rumours. Unfortunately no further information was supplied.

One INFOSAN member from another Asian country reported a suspected case of illness following the consumption of the implicated rice, but this could not be confirmed upon further investigation and no fake rice was found.

This event highlights the added difficulties that arise during food safety events that result from fraud. In addition, gaps in the analytical methodologies to test for “fake rice” were also raised.

The US FDA and their food fraud network are aware of the issue and are monitoring the rice imported from China. Assumptions arose that this fake rice is exported mainly to the African continent.

EREN discussed the difficulty linked to this issue as no proper risk characterisation can be done unless the different risk characterisation questions such as, which different types of resins are used to produce the fake rice, are properly identified.

EREN concluded that this is considered as an emerging issue. EREN recommended EFSA to contact its different international collaborators from Asia and remain liaised with INFOSAN to be kept updated on this issue.

(Source: EFSA website)

Food recalls in EU – Week 32 – 33

These weeks on the RASFF database (Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed) we have six recalls from consumers in EU in the alert notifications:

– Allergens: undeclared almond in olive with garlic, following company’s own check. Origin Poland, notified by Denmark;

– Composition: high content of aluminium in cake flour, following company’s own check. Origin Vietnam, notified by Germany, distributed also to Netherlands and Poland;

– Pathogenic micro-organisms: shigatoxin-producing Escherichia Coli in goat cheese made from raw milk, following company’s own check. Origin France, notified by France, distributed also to Belgium and Luxembourg;

– Pathogenic micro-organisms: shigatoxin-producing Escherichia Coli in raw goat milk cheese, following company’s own check. Origin France, notified by France, distributed also to Belgium, Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland;

– Pathogenic micro-organisms: Salmonella infantis in frozen marinated chicken breast fillets, following an official control on the market. Origin Netherlands, notified by Denmark;

– Pathogenic micro-organisms: Salmonella in chorizo, following an official control on the market. Origin Spain, notified by France, distributed also to Luxembourg.

Between the information for attention and the information for follow up notifications, followed by a recall from consumers, we find:

– Pathogenic micro-organisms: Bacillus cereus in cream, following company’s own check. Origin United Kingdom, notified by United Kingdom, distributed also to Jersey and Guernsey;

– Defective packaging: the lids of the packages does not close tightly in chilled diced bacon, following a consumer complaint. Origin Sweden, notified by Denmark.

Between the alert notifications, followed by a withdrawal from the market of the product, we find:

– Allergens: undeclared shrimp in fish stew, following company’s own check. Origin Spain, notified by Italy;

– Composition: high content of aluminium in glass noodles from beans, following an official control on the market. Origin China, notified by Germany, distributed also to Austria;

– Composition: unauthorised substance androstenedione and unauthorised ingredient tetrahydrocanabinol  in food supplement, following an official control on the market. Origin Germany, notified by Czech Republic;

– Composition: unauthorised ingredient tetrahydrocanabinol in food supplement, following an official control on the market. Origin Hungary, notified by Czech Republic;

– Mycotoxins: aflatoxins in raw pistachios, following company’s own check. Origin Iran (via Germany), notified by Italy, distributed also to Austria, Hong Kong, France, Malta and Switzerland;

 Pathogenic micro-organisms: Bacillus subtilis in flavoured milk, following a consumer’s complaint. Origin Germany, notified by United Kingdom, distributed also to Austria, Belgium, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg and Netherlands;

– Pathogenic micro-organisms: Listeria Monocytogenes in frozen meatballs, following company’s own check. Origin Netherlands, notified by Netherlands, distributed also to Belgium;

– Pathogenic micro-organisms: Salmonella spp. in ground chilli powder, following an official control on the market. Origin unknown (via Switzerland and Norway), notified by Netherlands, distributed also to Centro African Republic, Gabon, Germany, Italy and Sweden;

– Residues of veterinary medicinal products: residue level above MRL for oxytetracycline in frozen beef, following an official control on the market. Origin Poland, notified by Poland, distributed also to Croatia, France, Greece, Hungary, Kosovo, Lithuania, Malta, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Sweden, United Kingdom, Macedonia.

Amongst border rejections we have

– aflatoxins in peanut kernels, peanuts with shell, groundnut kernels and blanched peanuts from China, in ground nutmeg from the United States, in pistachio nuts from Iran and Tukey;

– Salmonella in raw salted uncalibrated poultry breast, frozen salted poultry breast and frozen salted chicken from Thailand, in hulled sesame seeds from India and in frog legs from Turkey;

– shelled walnuts from Chile and raisins from India infested with moulds;

– spoilage of and foreign body (stones, small sticks and stalks, fur) in raisins from Pakistan;

– formentanate in fresh peppers from Turkey, endosulfan, cypermethrin and hexaconazole in green beans from the Dominican Republic, chlorpyriphos and diazinon in whole black olives from Egypt

– too high content of sulphite in dried apricot from Uzbekistan;

– poor temperature control of and incorrect labelling on frozen Atlantic cod from China and poor temperature control of frozen squid from Argentina;

– prohibited substance nitrofuran (metabolite) furazolidone (AOZ) in frozen raw shrimps from India;

– unauthorised substance sildenafil in food supplements dispatched from China;

– attempt to illegally import aubergines from Thailand;

– Norovirus in frozen strawberries from China;

– poor state of preservation (strong smell) of and rodent excrements in sweet potatoes from Nigeria;

– benzo(a)pyrene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in crude soybean oil and non-refined soybean oil from Ukraine;

– too high content of zinc in vinegar from China;

– unauthorised ingredient (Rauwolfia serpentina, Areca catechu, Sida cordifolia, Ipomoea turphetum) and novel food ingredient Mucuna pruriens in various food supplements from India.

For feed, we have an alert notification, followed by a withdrawal from the market:

– Biotoxins: meadow saffron (Colchicum autumnale) in hay, following company’s own check. Origin Germany, notified by Netherlands.

For food contact materials we have an alert notification, followed by a withdrawal from the market:

Migration of p-tert-butylbenzoic acid (PTBBA) in plastic bags containing candy blood, following a consumer complaint. Origin China (via United Kingdom), notified by Germany;

and border rejections for migration of nickel and of manganese from grill and drip pans from Turkey and biodegradable plates from China unfit for use as food contact material (does not match conditions of use >100°C as on the label).

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