Highest failure rate for food samples from outside UK

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

Overall pattern of results was similar compared to 2013
Overall pattern of results was similar compared to 2013

Related tags: Listeria monocytogenes, Food

Food from the UK was most frequently sampled however samples from outside had the highest failure rate, according to Northern Ireland's eighth food surveillance sampling report.

The UK Food Surveillance System recorded 8265 sample details from Northern Ireland in 2014, slightly down on 8333 in 2013.

Overall pattern of results was similar with 63% satisfactory compared to 64% in 2013.

The report covers the sampling and testing of food by local councils in Northern Ireland across the food supply and retail chain.

A total of 7,602 samples were taken from the UK with 38% (2,852) unsatisfactory, 296 were taken from the EU with 44% (129) unsatisfactory and 243 from non-EU origin with 23% (56) unsatisfactory.

Microbiological findings

Trends included herbs and spices as a high risk food for enteric pathogens and the committee said surveillance should continue with consumers advised to rinse fresh herbs before use.

Foods unsatisfactory microbiologically included Salmonella in parsley, Listeria monocytogenes in sandwiches and Bacillus cereus, and Staphylococcus aureus in other foods.

Herbs are often imported from a variety of European and non-European countries.

“Proportionately, Salmonella is found in herbs and spices more often than in other foods. Also these foods may not be heated before consumption,” ​said the committee.

“Low numbers of herb samples are submitted for analysis each year. Increased sampling may provide a clearer picture regarding which herbs and which countries of origin are most likely to be the source of contaminated samples.”

NI sampling report
Sampling according to country of origin

High levels of Listeria monocytogenes have been found in Eastern European style cured meats sold in Northern Ireland.

“The popularity of these products has increased in recent years.

“Smoked fish is a food type associated with Listeria monocytogenes. Few samples of smoked fish have been sampled in NI in recent years. Increased sampling is recommended to assess the risk associated with these products locally.”

Unsatisfactory levels of hygiene indicators such as non-pathogenic E. coli and aerobic colony counts were detected in meat and meat products, prepared dishes, dairy products and fruit and vegetables.

Chemically unsatisfactory

With the exception of labelling, the highest percentage of chemically unsatisfactory foods was in the substitution or fraud category, followed by food additives.

“Basic labelling rules have been laid down for decades and there is little excuse for not getting the basics right​,” said the committee.

“Inattention to proper labelling shows disrespect for consumers, can be deliberately misleading, including non-permitted health and nutrition claims and for people with allergies or intolerances poor labelling can be dangerous.”

There were 27 samples that failed due to substitution but the lack of a defined standard for identifying non-compliance means it is not possible to assess implications where lesser levels of other meat species are detected, said the report.

Incidents recorded would suggest the intention to mislead the consumer, particularly in relation to beef and lamb substitution, the use of undeclared starch and added water in ham, and Whiting sold as Cod and Haddock used instead of Cod.

The samples were found to be of the incorrect meat species, contain species other than declared or other bulking adulterants present. 

“This fraud is normally for economic reasons and disadvantages the genuine businesses and defrauds the purchaser,”​ said the committee.

“The recommendation is to publicise detection with enforcement to discourage the unscrupulous businesses. Continued robust targeted sampling and testing should be pursued.”

Though one sample of food supplements was unsatisfactory they have significant labelling issues and problems with none permitted health and/or nutrition claims, liable to mislead potential purchasers. 

“There have also been issues found in other parts of the UK, and other countries, with active compounds added to aid fat reduction or lean muscle gain which are potentially harmful to health.  

“These are compounds such as 2-DNP, DMAA, etc. When sampling such types of food supplements testing for such compounds should be considered.”

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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