Convened under the auspices of the European Commission, the group of high level scientists examined the issue of contamination by the dye sudan 1 in the UK, and European, food chain.
Sudan 1 to IV are classified as carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and are banned under European Union rules imposed in July 2003.
The red dye had been detected earlier this month in chilli powder used to make Worcester sauce. The sauce, made by UK firm Premier Foods, is used as both an ingredient in processed products, as well as a tabletop product.
Rattling through the UK chain, the discovery prompted the UK's Food Standards Agency to pull all related products, such as Sainsburys pork sausages and Tesco's chicken and vegetable casserole, out of consumer reach. Costing millions of euros, the total number of affected products is now in excess of 480.
A UK delegate, who presented a recapitulation of the situation to the scientists, confirmed that the contaminated chilli had been imported in 2002 from India.
The UK believes that the whole imported batch has been used. Unconfirmed reports in various press suggest that five tons of the imported consignment were eventually sold in September 2002 to the flavourings firm Unbar Rothon in Billericay, Essex: Premier Foods is believed to have bought the Unbar Rothon batch. The rest appears to have been sold to other food companies.
"Lessons would have to be drawn with respect to the implementation by industry of the fundamental principles of the food law - primary responsibility of food business operators, application of HACCP" the EU working group on contaminants concluded after the meeting in Brussels.
But speaking with FoodNavigator.com last week, the UK's food industry body, the Food and Drink Federation, said: "The speed at which this ingredient has been traced shows the efficiency of the system."
Looking into how the contamination leaked into the food chain, Premier Foods said last week that it had certificates from its suppliers that guaranteed the chilli used was free of sudan 1.
If this is the case, contamination occurred because the processors used old stocks that pre-date the EU emergency measures.
Premier Foods confirmed to FoodNavigator.com that the stocks were brought in before July 2003.
"The late arrival of this chilli on the market in relation to its date of import (2002) is due to the long maturation process for the production of Worcester sauce," the UK delegate told the EU convened group of scientists last week.
At the same time, the delegate confirmed that a level of 3 mg/kg had been found in the sauce and 80 mg/kg in the concerned chilli powder.
In addition to the millions of euros required for the product recall and destruction, food firms may also face prosecution.
David Statham, director of enforcement at the FSA reminded the food industry yesterday that companies failing to ensure that "food placed on the market is safe and fit for human consumption can face prosecution under the General Food Regulations (no longer under the Food Safety Act)."
Local authorities, not the agency, are responsible for taking forward any prosecution that can range from a £20,000 fine and six months in jail from a magistrates court to two years in jail and an unlimited fine imposed by the Crown court.