Illegal dyes and jelly mini-cups back on Government Chemist radar

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: Government Chemist
Picture: Government Chemist

Related tags Government chemist Meat

Illegal dyes and the choking hazards of jelly mini-cups were two issues that resurfaced after gaps of several years, according to the Government Chemist annual review.

Other cases involved aflatoxins, naturally occurring cancer causing contaminants; issues relating to residues of pesticides or veterinary medicines and food authenticity.

A total of 14 cases were referred to the Government Chemist in its referee function in 2015, compared to 16 the year before.

The Government Chemist upheld the results of official analyses on 75% to 85% of occasions, according to data from technical appeals.

Jelly mini-cup choking issue

Jelly mini-cups came to prominence in Europe in 2003 and were banned in that year following the death of an 18-month old boy.

The Government Chemist was asked to resolve differences of opinion between two laboratories on compliance of a batch of jelly confectionery.

Regulation (EC) No 1333/2008 prohibits use of 17 specified gel forming additives in jelly mini-cups.

Two deciding points where: did the product have a firm consistency and was it intended to be ingested in a single bite.

It was determined to meet the definition of a jelly mini-cup so was not compliant with regulation.

The Government Chemist advised the batch should be given to the Local Authority for formal sampling. However, the consignment did not enter the UK market.

Food authenticity focus

In food authenticity, local authority testing of lamb dishes from takeaway restaurants for meat speciation found more than 60 samples considered to be non-compliant when sampled from the restaurant and its suppliers.

The Government Chemist used ELISA (to check the protein) and real time PCR (to identify cell nucleus DNA) to multiple replicates of the samples.

The “cooked lamb curry”, consisted of seven pieces of cooked meat and some sauce. We tested multiple replicates of each piece of meat (and the sauce) individually and showed that the meat was beef and not sheep meat​,” according to the review.

“The “goat meat”, also consisted of seven pieces of raw meat and similar detailed analysis confirmed that the meat was sheep and not goat.

“We found the “cooked minced lamb” to consist of a mixture of chicken and sheep meat, and the “minced lamb”, consisted of a mixture of sheep and chicken meat.”

The defendant, who pleaded not guilty, was found guilty and received a penalty of £7,100.

The Government Chemist said the default analytical strategy is multi-replicate analyses on multiple days.

Extent of replication, analysis of reference materials, (certified, where available), and of blanks and spiked blanks and/or sample aliquots, amounting to many elements of a stand-alone method validation, provide the necessary level of analytical confidence, it added.

Illegal dye in palm oil

On the illegal dye in palm oil case, the Public Analyst and the importer’s laboratory agreed samples contained Sudan IV but the Public Analyst reported slightly over and the importer’s laboratory slightly under the action limit.

The Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCoFCAH) advised in 2006 that a limit of 500 ppb (parts per billion, μg/kg) be applied to illegal dyes in food ingredients such as spices and palm oil.

Analysis consisted of acetonitrile: acetone extraction followed by liquid chromatography separation and tandem mass spectrometry detection and quantification (LC-MS/MS). Isotopically labelled Sudan IV D6 was used as an internal standard.

The Government Chemist received three bottles with no markings with two samples failing and one being passed but all were around the legislative limit.

“We found Sudan IV at not less than 366 μg/kg and not more than 418 μg/kg in what appeared to be the retail bottle of palm oil we received. By examining a side panel of the bottle we concluded that Sudan IV was neither leaching out of, nor being absorbed by the container.

“However, we noted that the formal sample appeared to consist of three separate product bottles.”

It advised the sampling officer to ask the Food Standards Agency for a risk assessment of the consignment, results are not known.

Veterinary medicine case and complexity

Veterinary medicines are used to treat sick animals or prevent disease in herds or flocks.

An importer disputed official results for concentration of the veterinary medicine ‘albendazole’ in corned beef. The Public Analyst had certified against the consignment for excess albendazole.

A laboratory acting for the importer reported data below the MRL, including a finding of the parent drug which is not included in the residue definition.

Analysis was by acetonitrile extraction, liquid/liquid partitioning and solid phase extraction clean-up followed by liquid chromatography separation and tandem mass spectrometry detection and quantification (LC-MS/MS).

Isotopically labelled albendazole-D3 and albendazole sulphoxide-D3 were internal standards.

Government Chemist findings did not confirm presence of the parent drug, as only the sulfoxide metabolite was detected.

We confirmed an exceedance of the MRL in both samples originally analysed and also in two previously unopened cans of the product. One of these contained over 15 times the maximum permitted amount of residue," ​it said.

“It was open to the importer to request analysis (at their own expense) of the remaining 36 unopened cans that had been sampled, to further characterise the consignment. However, in the event the consignment was re-exported and did not enter the UK supply chain.”

Dr Derek Craston, government chemist, said complexity arises from the evolving regulatory landscape and diversity and multitude of ingredients routinely used in processed products.

“For example, the challenges of interpreting the regulations dealing with the potential for jelly based confectionery to cause a choking hazard in young infants…illustrates how the use of undefined terms such as “firm” can lead to differences in opinion around product compliance," ​he said.

“Also, the changes introduced late in 2014 relating to the declaration requirements for the presence of allergens at the point of sale led to increased industry and enforcement focus in this space, and consequently to several disputes involving the potential presence of trace quantities of almonds in spices.”

Related topics Food Safety & Quality

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