Packaging – the role it plays in protecting food
Welcome to the seventh edition of LGC ASSURE Insights, a free digital newsletter to support your food safety management journey. If this is your first encounter with the newsletter, do have a look at some of the previous editions where I have explored topics as diverse as food fraud, allergens, sustainability and food safety certification (see related articles at the bottom of this page).
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This month’s edition focusses on the topic of packaging which is very much at the forefront of the sustainability agenda although I also want to look at the history, the different types, the uses, the risks and the future of packaging. As is customary in the newsletter, I will start with a selection of topical issues and incidents happening across the world.
Food recall highlights of the month
The Food Standards Agency has reiterated the significant risk of Listeria monocytogenes in smoked fish to vulnerable groups (over 65’s, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems) in the UK. This is due to an ongoing listeriosis outbreak where the majority of the 14 linked cases reported consumption of ready- to-eat smoked fish.
Recalls due to contamination with L. monocytogenes were prominent last month and included smoked mackerel fillet and a rather unusual food vehicle, namely chilled pancakes, both in the UK. Other recalls due to the same organism included various cheeses, butter, and frozen RTE chicken products in the USA, shredded IQF hash browns, fresh frozen dill and jalapeño red, patties for dogs and pastrami and turkey breast in Canada, ready to eat meals in Australia and cooked meat, smoked trout and grilled duck in Germany.
Recalls due to other microbial contaminants included an extension of the Cronobacter sakazakii (and Clostridium botulinum) issue reported in last month’s newsletter to further nutritional and beverage products and to various dinner rolls, sandwich rolls and bun products and pretzel buns and bites.
Salmonella spp. featured extensively in microbial recalls including tahini in the USA, halva in Germany and in mango pieces in the UK, whilst generic E. coli (i.e. not O157), resulted in unusual recalls of ricotta cheese, paneer cheese and oysters in Canada. To add to the already rather unusual recalls, Spain reported cases of staphylococcal (Staphylococcus aureus) food poisoning from ambient bottled mushrooms and recalls due to Hepatitis A contamination were apparent across a number of countries including from frozen fruit in the UK. Allergen recalls particularly featured peanuts and tree nuts in the last month with misdeclaration causing a recall of spices in Australia, chocolate spread in the UK and an oatmeal smoothie in Germany whilst mispacking was the apparent cause of peanut contamination in various chocolate bars, also in the UK. Applying the wrong label (walnut) to packs of pecans prompted a recall in the USA and similarly chocolate coconut bites were recalled due to the presence of cashew. Of course there were also many recalls due to the presence of other allergens including milk in fruit and nut mix, vegetarian burgers and chocolate truffles, egg in frozen pancakes and a lemon curd yogurt, mustard in a pasta bake, fish in a chicken and bacon wrap and soy and wheat in a Caesar dressing.
Foreign body contamination prompted recalls of a baby food due to hard plastic, canned sweetcorn and gin due to broken glass, all in Germany. Metal wire and hard plastic prompted two different recalls affecting cookies in the USA and metal contamination also resulted in a recall of sponge cake in the UK. Pieces of bone fragments caused the recall of a chicken and bacon product in Canada.
The microbiome – “you are what you eat”
Conventional wisdom has always told us that “you are what you eat” and whilst this remains as true today as it ever was, what is increasingly apparent is that a lot happens in your gut microbiome that influences whether “what you eat” has a beneficial or detrimental impact on “what you are”. The microbiome is made up of microorganisms including bacteria, viruses and fungi that impact our health in a variety of ways including helping us digest food, supporting immune responses and protecting against pathogens. The importance of a healthy gut microbiome has been recognised in the increasing use of faecal transplants in medical therapies such as protecting against Clostridium difficile infections and also evidenced in the burgeoning market for probiotics and prebiotics.
Watch out for a future edition of the newsletter when I will delve a bit deeper into this fascinating area.
This month’s special feature: Packaging
Packaging plays a pivotal role in industry and society more generally. Rewind to the start of the 20th century and the vast majority of products, especially foods, would have been sold loose to the customer who would have been expected to bring their own baskets or containers to carry their purchased items back to their homes. Indeed, go back centuries and the same principles will have applied to foods collected/caught from fields, bushes trees, rivers and seas. Packaging products in paper, card, metal, glass, plastic or any variety of packaging derivative is a very recent development. Packaging technology went hand in hand with product development and enabled significant benefits for the customer in terms of safety, quality, affordability, availability, range and convenience.
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