A wake-up call to food manufacturers operating in the €600 billion European food market, since Friday the UK's food watchdog has pulled over 400 well-known processed food products from the shelves, after detecting the carcinogenic substance sudan 1 in Worcester sauce.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) identified the harmful dye in a Worcester sauce product produced by UK company Premier Foods.
Because the product is used as an ingredient in a number of branded and retailer own-label products, as well as being sold as bottles of Worcester sauce, the recall marks one of the largest ever carried out by the government-funded agency.
Banned in 2003 under European Union rules, Sudan dye, also known as 'scarlet red', has since been found in a range of UK chilli powders and curry powders, as well as more than 200 food products ranging from pesto sauce to chicken tikka masala.
In order to minimise risk and millions of euros implicated in the recall, all dried, crushed or ground chilli and curry powder into the EU must be accompanied by a certificate showing it has been tested and found to be free of Sudan 1.
Looking into how the contamination leaked into the food chain, Premier Foods said on Friday that it had certificates from its suppliers that guaranteed the chilli it used was free of Sudan 1.
If this is the case, another possibility could explain the contamination: that the stocks used in these latest formulations pre-date the EU ban.
Premier Foods confirmed to FoodNavigator.com that the stocks were brought in before July 2003.
As such, the company may avoid a fine from the FSA.
Chilli and curry powder, less vulnerable to microbiological hazards, have a long shelf life.
"Any food manufacturer that currently has stocks that pre-date the Commission regulations would be advised to have the ingredients tested for contamination," cautions Chris Smart, at UK food laboratory, Reading Scientific Services.
RSSL provides a screening method for Sudan I - IV that on a small 25 to 100 gramme sample can detect for contamination within a couple of hours.
Without disclosing how much such a test would cost the food maker, RSSL re-iterated that food makers would be wise to test every imported batch. In theory, if the ingredients have already been tracked and tested, it should not be necessary to test finished food products for contamination.
It all comes down to due diligence, Smart told FoodNavigator.com.