The Food Standards Agency (FSA) launched the investigation earlier this month after closing down Euro Freeze in Northern Ireland, and called for companies to check the status of their productsoriginating from the cold storage operator.
The FSA requirement that all the products that used ingredients originating from the coldstore be tracked down emphasises the increasing role of regulations on the traceability of foods throughoutthe supply and distribution chains.
Yesterday the FSA said emerging evidence has led it to contact the European Commission so that member states and any other countries can be alerted to possible suspect product having entered their borders.
''This is a complex and on-going investigation. Large amounts of evidence are being scrutinised and as soon as we obtain useful information it is being shared with local authorities, the European Commission and others who can assist with tracking down suspect product," stated Morris McAllister, the director of the FSA's Northern Ireland unit.
Over the past 18 days, the FSA investigation has resulted in the issuing of four food alerts requiring local authority action in the UK.
Local authorities have been contacting companies that havereceived Eurofreeze products to establish whether the product has allegedly illicit health markings, the FSA stated.
The FSA has detained suspected products for further investigation. The local authorities are also tracing product that has been sold on to other businesses.
Investigators are also attempting to trace back the products in the Euro Freeze coldstore to their source, to assess whether the product has come from legitimate sources and has been handledcorrectly, the agency said.
"The evidence uncovered so far has identified wide ranging distribution of Euro Freeze (Ireland) Ltd product, some of which is likely to be legitimate, other of which could besuspect," the FSA alleges.
The regulator added that no specific food safety issues have been identified in relation to any particular products.
This FSA-led investigation began following a Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) visit to the coldstore at Lisnaskea on 9 November, accompanied by the police. The premises weresecured and product detained.
The premises remain closed and the FSA suspended the coldstore's operating licence on 18 November.
DARD's raid was sparked by activity involving Euro Freeze in August 2005. DARD informed the FSA that chicken originating from China, for importation into Northern Ireland via Greece, was seized atBelfast port and subsequently destroyed by DARD officials on animal health grounds.
The FSA said its investigations relate to a large quantity of foodstuffs found in the company's coldstore. The FSA is focusing its enquiry on repackaging and re-labelling activity on the premises.
"Emerging evidence suggests the use of illicit health marks," the FSA alleged in a previous press release. "Apparently legitimate products correctly health marked were alsofound on the premises."
Companies are asked to quarantine any meat from the coldstore to allow for a full inspection by enforcement officers. Inspectors are ordered to detain the meat, if necessary using the Food SafetyAct 1990 powers of detention.
On 1 January this year EU laws on traceability that entered into force on 1 January 2005. The laws harmonises the bloc's requirements on the traceability of food products, the withdrawal ofdangerous products from the market, operator responsibilities and requirements applicable to imports and exports.
The new mandatory traceability requirement applies to all food, animal feed, food-producing animals and all types of food chain operators from the farming sector to processing, transport, storage,distribution and retail to the consumer.
All information on the name, address of producer, nature of products and date of transaction must be systematically registered within each operator's traceability system. The law requires theinformation to be kept for a period of five years and on request, it must immediately be made available to regulators.