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Testing reveals third of food products mislabelled

88% of food supplements had an adverse report
88% of food supplements had an adverse report

Testing from a UK public laboratory has revealed mislabelling in a third of products ranging from food supplements to meat.

38% of almost 900 samples analysed in West Yorkshire attracted an adverse report to labelling and/or other faults.

Testing found mozzarella that was half real cheese, meat with other species than those mentioned and vodka contained isopropanol which is used for disinfection.

Some samples had additives not permitted in the EU, one test of herbal slimming tea was found to contain 81% glucose, no herbs and no tea and food sold after the best before date was found.

Six month sampling

The samples were taken by West Yorkshire Trading Standards Service and reported on during the six months to 30 September 2013. The analysis is for the enforcement report with another due in June this year.

Dr Duncan Campbell, West Yorkshire's public analyst, said that the problems found reflect the fact that people are still looking for them rather than the scale of the issue.

He told FoodQualityNews.com that where there is no sampling there is a lack of public protection and honest food businesses are at a disadvantage.

“Targeting sampling found the problems in West Yorkshire, other areas must have similar problems but if you don’t look you don’t find.

“Horse meat taught us you can’t rely on a paper trail because if the fraud is deliberate the paper will say what they want it to.”

Fragile consumer trust

Nick Martin, senior vice president at product recall firm, Trace One, said consumer trust is extremely fragile: if they feel products purchased are omitting key ingredients in the packaging, or actively misleading them, then retailers’ and manufacturers’ reputations will suffer.

“Retailers and manufacturers need to show they are being fully transparent on what is in their products and making this information readily available,” he said.

“At the same time, consumers need to be reassured that bodies such as local councils and the Food Standards Agency are doing all they can to enforce standards and inform the public.

“By taking this approach the industry can take transparency as an opportunity to prove its bona fides: allowing those reputable members to innovate and differentiate themselves from the competition.”

In the analysis, of the 24 samples of fruit juices and soft drinks submitted, nine attracted an adverse report. Some were due to foreign languages on the packaging, others had numerous labelling faults with one calling for over 500 words of comments.

Two samples contained additives which are not permitted in the EU. Brominated vegetable oils are used in the USA as a stabilising agent. The samples also contained Erythorbic Acid a stereoisomer of Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) which has antioxidant properties.

Some alcoholic products failed to meet the minimum percentage of alcohol defined by regulations.

One vodka was deficient by 4.4% in alcohol and another was found to be made from isopropanol and tertiary-butanol which are not found in ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin.

Five samples being sold after their best before date were submitted for analysis in April 2013. Three were found to have deteriorated to an extent which made it illegal to sell them.

A sample of pure palm oil with a best before date of 31 December 2011 was described as the most rancid oil that the Public Analyst had ever experienced.

Food supplement problems

During the period covered, 43 samples of food supplements were reported with 38 of the (88%) attracting an adverse report.

Most of the comments relate to labelling issues, particularly the use of non-approved health claims, however two samples were found which could cause harm.

A complaint sample of Shapefast fast herbal slimming tea was found to contain 81% glucose, no herbs and no tea.

Further testing found that the sample contained Sibutramine, a withdrawn prescription only medicine which has been used in the treatment of obesity.

Each sachet contained more than 13 times the normal prescribed dosage. Sibutramine was withdrawn from the UK because the benefit of treatment does not outweigh the risk of serious side effects.

Meat from other species

Fourteen samples of meat, including mince and diced meat were found to contain meat from species other than that named. These contained more of the declared species others were contaminated and no instance of horse were found.

One example was taken on 21 March last year of keema Mince beef which contained 5% sheep, resulting in a letter to the trader.

Two samples of mozzarella cheese were found to be either only 40 or 75% dairy based.

The amount of fat in the milk from small producers who bottle and distribute their own was questioned as in 27 samples, seven were found to have a fat content outside of the values permitted for the various descriptions.

Amy Leech, Soil Association senior policy officer, said it highlights two important flaws in the food chain – too little traceability and too much processed food.

“We’ve seen rising sales in local butchers and of organic as shoppers increasingly turn to food they can trust – early indications show positive growth in the organic market in 2013, with sales increasing after around four years of decline. Organic is a highly regulated food system,” she said.

“Any product sold as ‘organic’ must comply with strict rules assuring consumers they are buying genuine products that can be fully traceable back to the farm. But, when it comes to the food served in schools and hospitals, we cannot check the label or shop around.”

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