The Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Food Standards Scotland were notified of and investigated 1,514 foods, feed and environmental contamination incidents in the UK last year, compared to 1,645 in 2014.
The FSA also sent 337 notifications to the European Commission, via the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF).
Pathogenic micro-organisms top contributor
The four largest contributors to recorded incidents were pathogenic micro-organisms (18%), allergens (14%), chemical contamination (12%) and residues of veterinary medicinal products (8%).
FSA said the number of notifications related to an issue will depend on the level of testing and investigation. This is influenced by changing concerns and priorities as new issues emerge and are managed.
A total of 67% of the pathogenic micro-organism incidents were related to Salmonella species or E. coli. However, 49 of the 75 E. coli incidents resulted from shellfish bed monitoring.
Many of the Salmonella incidents were associated with contaminated paan leaves from the Indian subcontinent.
A Commission decision imposed a temporary suspension of imports of betel (paan) leaves from Bangladesh from February 2014 (subsequently extended to 30 June 2016) following high levels of Salmonellacontamination which has likely led to a decrease in incidents.
The top commodity type was meat and meat products (other than poultry), followed by bivalve molluscs and products, fruits and vegetables, cereals and bakery products, milk and milk products and herbs and spices.
Allergen notifications rise
Allergen incidents increased from 89 in 2013 to 206 in 2015 which may be related to new rules on providing allergen ingredients information from December 2014.
Paul Beardshaw, client manager for FoodChain ID Europe Training and Events, said RASFF hazard category allergen incidents have risen by 79.32% since 2013.
“This rise may be partially explained by new regulation (EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation No. 1169/2011) being introduced in December 2014. However, there was a 35.19% rise between 2013 and 2014, before the legislation was induced.
“This indicates a substantial gap in the knowledge around allergen food safety and labelling requirements in the food industry.”
Beardshaw said often recalls due to undeclared allergens are labelling mistakes, rather than issues of food contamination.
“This can be an unnecessary expense, and a formidable threat to brand reputation for companies not labelling known allergens in their product.
“Food businesses should be vigilant in educating their staff on the shop floor in line with following QMS systems and HACCP principles, as well as ensuring that marketing teams are aware of EU labelling requirements in regards to allergens and free from declarations.”
More than half of the incidents were reported by local authorities (409), EU Member States and the European Commission (213) or central government bodies (210) and industry reported 154.
Fraud incidents decline
The number of adulteration/fraud incidents fell from 69 in 2014 to 58, which was welcomed by Justin Ross, sales manager for Cert ID Europe.
“This demonstrates that efforts to reduce food fraud in reflection to the Elliot Report’s (2013) findings are working. The decrease in reported food fraud cases could be due to the introduction of the BRC Agents and Broker’s standard, which promotes transparency through the whole supply network.”
Ross said the number of RASFF reported food fraud incidents is still way higher than would be expected given the heightened awareness of food integrity issues in industry.
“There are still many Agents and Brokers trading without certification, and until manufacturers and ingredient suppliers demand this certification, as many retailers demand food safety certifications, then we will continue to see an unnecessary amount of food fraud incidents.”
FDA RFR report
Meanwhile, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released the fifth Reportable Food Registry (RFR) annual report covering September 8, 2013 to September 7, 2014.
Of the 909 entries, 201 were mandatory primary reports submitted by industry; 464 were subsequent ones as a result of primary reports; and 244 were amended issues, updating previously submitted primary or subsequent reports.
Undeclared allergens increased with 95 primary reports, up from 88. This area has increased since RFR inception, representing 30% of reports in year one and rising to 47% in year five.
Bakery accounted for the most reports related to undeclared allergens for all five years.
Dairy reports increased with 24 primary reports, up from 10 in year four. Half of the dairy reports concerned undeclared allergens, according to the latest figures.
Listeria monocytogenes in a ready to eat salad product, resulted in 180 entries. The same pathogen in stone fruits, including peaches, resulted in 43 entries (related to an illness outbreak investigation).
RFR entries triggered follow-up investigations by FDA that resulted in import alerts or bulletins.
Import alerts were issued for undeclared allergens in salad dressing from a facility in South Korea, Listeria monocytogenes in herring from a site in Russia and undeclared allergens in chocolate from a plant in the Netherlands.
Import bulletins included lead in noodles from facilities in India and undeclared milk in chocolate from Canada.