FVO audit – Post slaughter traceability issues in Luxembourg

An audit to Luxembourg was carried out from 25 November to 4 December 2014. The main objective of the audit was to evaluate the operation of official controls over the traceability of meat (meat of domestic ungulates, poultry, lagomorphs and game meat), minced meat, mechanically separated meat (MSM), meat preparations, meat products (hereafter referred to as meat and products thereof), and composite products containing meat and products thereof and other ingredients.

Particular attention was paid to the traceability, labelling and identification systems of meat and products thereof, and to composite products containing meat and products thereof and traceability of quantities of each ingredient used.

The Competent Authority (CA) responsible for official controls in the scope of the audit has been designated in compliance with Article 4 (1) of Chapter II of Regulation (EC) No 882/2004. The CA is still in the process of amending the National Food Law of 1953 in order to ensure that appropriate action is taken and applicable sanctions are imposed and enforced when non-compliances are identified, as required by Articles 54 and 55 of Regulation (EC) No 882/2004. Within the scope of the audit, the official control plans are implemented as foreseen and are carried out in accordance with documented procedures. Official controls cover identification, labelling and traceability.

However the limited controls on additives, labelling and composition, the lack of systematic control of quantitative traceability or procedures for an in depth verification of food business operators’ (FBOs) traceability procedures and the lack of the possibility to impose administrative sanctions are undermining the effectiveness of official controls.

The CA’s control results for the selected samples indicated non-compliances, but some significant non-compliances related to traceability, labelling and/or the use of additives were not detected. While the system of official controls includes verification of FBOs’ compliance with traceability, application of identification marks and labelling, it is not sufficiently developed. Several deficiencies had not been identified during official controls, in particular, verification of the correctness of the information and content on the label, links between different traceability documents and comprehensive control on the use of ingredients additives and/or spices.

Here you can check the competent Authority answers to the Food Veterinary Office recommendations.

 

The next food fraud? Worse than the ”Horsegate”

If the explosion of the infamous “Horsemeat Scandal” was greeted at first with disbelief and barely concealed laughter from the public and media, the following concern for a public health risk revealed itself in a short time as completely not founded. None of these two reactions seem to be triggered by what could be the next food fraud scandal on a global scale.

The affected product, in this case, are spices (especially cumin, paprika and various mix) which, at a level not yet identified of the supply chain, have been adulterated with crushed almond shells, with the clear aim  of financial gain. The real risk – and what distinguishes this case from ”Horsegate” – is that such conduct poses a serious risk to the health of allergic consumers. Almond nuts

The tree nuts category, indeed, is one of the allergens that more easily could cause violent anaphylactic shock; the risk is more than real, since the analytical detection of almond’s traces (probably remained caked on the shells) was the cause of dozens of recalls and withdrawals from the market started in UK, US, Canada and several other European countries.

Although the intent of the contamination has not yet been demonstrated, it is clear that such a wide spread of withdrawals and recalls worldwide, as well as the involvement in the issue of many different brands on the market (even global retailers such as Morrisons and Sainsbury’s) and the different types product, clearly suggest a deliberate fraud.

Spices have quite high prices, which allow good profit margins through this kind of adulteration: in addition, not always the systems of internal traceability of the small and medium-size companies are adequate to the high complexity required by management of these raw materials and their mix. Finally, as highlighted by Prof. Chris Elliot in some recent interviews, the last season saw in Gujarat (India) a cumin harvest absolutely disastrous because of the weather, and this caused a spike in prices.

Although a British company, Bart Ingredients, has challenged the analytical methods used by the British “Food Standards Agency” (FSA), advancing the hypothesis of “false positives” attributed to another ingredient (the “Mahaleb”, extracted from a variety of cherry tree), the chances that this is proved true for all cases found seems utterly unrealistic.

UK, was the European country most affected by the phenomenon. Here the cumin’s consumption as a flavor enhancer in soups and processed products, and also in combination with other spices such as paprika, chili and curry, is very high. The extent of the contamination, however, is not yet fully established. At the moment there have been no reports of deaths or hospitalizations due to the issue, but unfortunately could only be a matter of time. The spices are used in many processed and prepacked foods and it will be very difficult to detect all the products contaminated and to remove them all from the shelves (e.g. the first recalls involved kit for fajitas in British supermarket).

This will be the first “stress test” for the newborn FSA “Food Crime United” and the UK food safety system as a whole, after its reorganization following the “Elliot Review”. Important signals, however, should also be sent by the European Commission, now engaged with the revision of Reg. (EC) n. 882/2004 and with the implementation of appropriate measures to fight frauds.