The Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC) issued its warning following an announcement from the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) that apples containing morpholine must be withdrawn from sale and returned to their country of origin. The alarm was raised after it discovered the unapproved additive on imported Chilean fruit.
But the UK trade group said it challenged the FSA’s interpretation that the substance is a food additive and not a processing aid, as designated in other countries.
Morpholine is used as a carrier for glazing agents applied to fruit and is permitted in various countries outside of the EU, including Chile, the USA and Canada.
The food watchdog has sent letters to fresh produce importers and local authorities after a sampling programme revealed the additive, which is forbidden for use with the European Union, had been found on apples and citrus fruit shipped into the UK from a number of countries. It urged industry to ensure that all future fresh produce imports are morpholine-free in order to meet current EU legislation.
“Waxes containing morpholine aren’t allowed under EU rules and shouldn’t be on food products,” said the agency’s food safety director Dr Alison Gleadle. “However, eating any of the fruit is unlikely to be a health concern.
The FSA added that citrus fruit treated with morpholine could still be sold as they are peeled prior to consumption.
The FPC has accused the body of acting in a disproportionate way and said its decision would have major repercussions both across the EU and globally.
Up until the FSA’s recent crackdown, the majority of industry players believed the substance to be a processing aid, rather than a food additive, FPC spokeswoman Sian Thomas told FoodProductionDaily.com. Under EU law, food additives can only be used if they have approved by the region’s risk assessment body and included on a positive list.
The trade association pointed out that morpholine is approved for use as a waxing agent elsewhere in the world. It highlighted Health Canada’s most recent assessment that “morpholine as used in apple coatings does not present a risk to human health”.
“The FSA has failed to manage this incident in a responsible and proportionate manner,” said Nigel Jenney, chief executive of FPC. “The fresh produce industry takes every care to provide safe, fresh produce of the highest quality and the FSA recognises that the likelihood of any risk from residues of morpholine to consumers is extremely low. We are most concerned that the FSA may create an unnecessarily confusing picture for consumers about the safety of all fresh produce.”
He added the body would hold the FSA responsible for any consequences of its action.