Last week for example, the Food Standards Agency alerted the industry to the contamination of some food ingredients with Para Red. This is not a permitted colour under TheColours in Food Regulations 1995 and is not permitted in foodstuffs for anypurpose.
Para Red is chemically very similar to Sudan I, another illegal colourwhich has been subject to much press in recent weeks.
RSSL, the UK-based scientific food analyst, claims that it can help food companies worried about possible contamination by determining and verifying which colours are present in their food products and ingredients. The company uses using HPLC or LC-MS techniques to screen for colours, and can also detect for Annatto, Amaranth, Brown HT, Rhodamine B and Orange II on request.
The industry is worried because incidents of contamination can fatally damage brand image and cost millions in recalls and lost sales. The number one UK retailer Tesco for example had to recall its own brand of rice cake product after detecting Para Red colour in the product.
The recall came just a few days after the UK's food agency issued its first ever warning on para red, after trace levels were detected in batches of paprika present in an Old El Paso Mexican dinner kit. Sensibilities to food contamination have been raised since the biggest food recall in UK history, sparked off in February after illegal colouring Sudan 1 was identified in over 600 processed food products.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has told food manufacturers that they need to ensure that the foods they sell are legal, and that they should take action to ensure that the foods they produce and sell are not contaminated. The FSA is even considering a survey of chilli powder and related products to assess whether imports into the UK are contaminated with illegal dyes.
Para Red (paranitraniline red), a chemical used to dye fabrics a brilliant red, is chemically very similar to Sudan 1, said the FSA, advising that although "there is very limited data available it would be prudent to assume that it could be a genotoxic carcinogen."
This latest product recall on a contaminant as yet virtually unheard of in the UK food chain suggests that tougher testing methods will be required to ensure a safe food chain. It also raises the possibility that Para Red could be hidden elsewhere in foodstuffs; but because previous tests have not hunted for this illegal colour, they failed to detect it.
Better detection is therefore vital if consumers are to be adequately protected and confidence in processed foods is maintained.