FSA appoints expert body on food contaminants

By Linda Rano

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food standards agency Food safety Uk food standards agency

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has appointed the Central
Science Laboratory (CSL) as the central UK, expert body on
contaminants in food, to help and advise the Agency across a range
of food contaminant issues.

The EC reported in June 2007 that tougher measures against illegal dyes and more harmonised criteria for detecting pathogens had led to a 5 per cent drop in EU food safety alerts compared to the year before. However, among the risks that continued to be reported were the presence of food contaminants including heavy metals and mycotoxins. The CSL has been designated as the UK's National Reference Laboratory for contaminants in food to meet the requirements of Article 33 of EC regulation 882/2004, introduced to improve the consistency and effectiveness of official food and animal feed controls across the EU. Article 33 calls for the establishment of National Reference Laboratories to coordinate and liaise with central EU laboratories that specialise in particular food and feed safety areas. The FSA says that the services provided by the new National Reference Laboratory include: providing a channel for communication between the FSA and other relevant laboratories; advising and representing on contaminants within the UK/EU; producing standard operating procedures, codes of practice and guidance documents - as agreed with the FSA; conducting compliance assessments - as agreed with the FSA. Works covers a number of specific areas: Mycotoxins ​ The EU legal limit for mycotoxins in finished products such as bread and breakfast cereals is 500 parts per billion. However, studies have revealed that flour may contain 750ppb. Mycotoxin is a particular worry for bakery firms as it remains stable during processing and, if found in the raw grain, can reoccur in foods containing wheat flour. The FSA issued a code of practice in 2007 advising UK farmers to avoid intense rotations of crops such as maize and wheat which are prime hosts of the fusarium fungi, a cause of one type of mycotoxin. Heavy metals ​ Other areas of work include heavy metals, dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). With regard to the latter, a European Food Standards Agency survey published last year found that about 2.2 per cent of foods sampled had levels of carcinogenic PAH above the legal limit, with cocoa butter and food supplements topping the list. Food contact materials ​ The National Reference Laboratory will also consider issues relating to materials and articles in contact with food. Central Science Laboratory The CSL, based in North Yorkshire, is in executive arm of DEFRA and safeguarding the UK's food supply is a major part of its work. CSL says that it contributes to the food chain safety by analysis of food materials to detect contaminants and residues and by building knowledge and expertise among food producers and laboratories in developing countries. According to CSL, its specialists work with governments and the food industry around the world to assess risks from contamination, detect unwanted chemicals in food and support the building of local competences to improve food chain safety. The CSL appointment as National Reference Laboratory for contaminants in food began 1 April 2008 and will initially run for 4 years.

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