Safety alerts include reports on Sudan 1, arsenic, benzene and ITX

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Tetra pak Food safety European union

A total of 60 incidents of food safety breaches were reported
EU-wide last week, with incidents of unauthorised Sudan 1 colours,
arsenic, benzene and isopropyl thioxanthone continuing to crop up
in the latest alert advisory.

The EU's rapid alert notification list serves as an early warning system for regulators from member states and for those along the supply chain who use the foods as ingredients or put them up for sale. Withdrawals of foods can be expensive for food companies and importers. They can also damage a brand's reputation in the market.

A total of 56 alerts and notices in the latest weekly update related to human foods. The rest related to feeds and kitchen equipment.

The unautorised colour additive Sudan 1 and Sudan 4 was reported in chili powder sold in Germany and originating from Belgium. Germany also found Sudan 1 and Sudan 4 in spice mixtures from Turkey. The UK found Sudan 1 in palm oil from Nigeria.

In February 2005, Sudan 1 was at the centre of the biggest food recall in the UK's history, when authorities detected this potentially carcinogenic colour in chilli powder used in a batch of Worcester sauce supplied by St.Albans-based firm Premier Foods.

Other dangerous substances found last week included arsenic in a food supplement made by a domestic manufacturer in Belgium. Ochratoxin, a potentially carcinogenic mould, was found in instant coffee sold in the Slovak Republic and in dried raisins imported from Uzbekistan into the Czech Republic.

On 12 April Ireland's regulator reported finding benzene in domestically produced diet lemonade. This follows the UK's regulator finding of high levels of benzene in four beverages two weeks ago and the withdrawals from the market of the products.

Two months ago sister publication reported that some soft drinks are contaminated with benzene above the regulatory limits for drinking water. Regulators around the world have since started testing for the substances.

The suspected source of the benzene is two common ingredients - sodium benzoate and ascorbic acid - in the drinks, although heat and light exposure has also been shown to increase benzene formation.

Frozen vacuum packed slices of tuna from Vietnam and imported into the bloc via the Netherlands were reported to have been illegally treated with carbon monoxide. The gas is used to preserve the fresh look of meats. Italy also reported finding unauthorised lithium in a food supplement from Malta.

Isopropyl thioxanthone (ITX) was reported as migrating from packaging into a pineapple juice product from Austria and sold in Italy. The country also reported finding ITX in a nutridrink from the Netherlands. Italy has been the main reporter of ITX, a packaging chemical.

ITX hit the headlines in September after Italy's food safety regulators detected it in some batches of Nestlé's products. The packaging was produced by Sweden-based Tetra Pak. The ink curing agent was found to have migrated through the packaging and into milk.

Tetra Pak stopped using ITX in the packing for the affected Nestlé products in October after being informed of the problem. The company is also phasing out the use of ITX in other fatty liquid products and for some juices.

The resulting controversy led to claims and counterclaims about the safety of the chemical by the Italian government, consumer groups, Nestlé and Tetra Pak. In December the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said scientific evidence indicates that the presence of the chemical in packaged foods does not pose a health risk.

Foods from China were also major source of reports made to the EU's rapid alert system last week. In one alert, Belgium found dioxins in a choline chloride animal feed premixture from China. The substance is used as feed in the EU. The Slovak Republic also warned about the suffication risk posed by a China-made luminous lollypop with a key chain. A similar warning related to a fruit lollypops with a toy-laser pistol.

China was also cited four times by Poland for supplying dried ginger products with mould.

Last year Eurosurvelliance, the EU's cross-border warning network, recorded 691 alerts about bad foods. That's a 52 per cent jump in the number of alerts over the previous year.

Alerts record incidents of contaminated food or feed that may have crossing into other members' borders. Another 1,897 information notices, a two per cent rise, recorded incidents that remained contained within an individual country, or arrived as exports to the bloc and were stopped at its borders.

The trade names and the identity of individual companies are not published in the weekly list of alerts and notifications.

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