A food safety reflection on 2022: A year of challenge
Welcome to the ninth edition of LGC Assure Insights, a free digital newsletter to support your food safety management journey. This edition looks back over the many issues that have arisen across the wide range of topics we have covered in 2022 including labelling, allergens, food fraud and packaging. If you want a deeper dive into any one of these issues it is well worth looking through the archive of previous editions. Sign up here so you can get access to these as well as future editions.
LGC Assure Insights is different from other news sources as it combines otherwise unpublished food safety management data held across the LGC Assure network of companies with real-time events to provide an unparalleled view of current and emerging issues and trends. And, of course, it is free.
This month is a time to reflect on what was another challenging year for our industry and society in general. Product recalls will be a major feature of this edition and I also want to take this opportunity to spend a little time on recall preparedness, something that we should all be ‘silent perfectionists’ at in the hope that we never to have to deploy these skills. But before I delve into this let’s have a look at some of the issues that have been of note in the first month of this year.
New Year, New Reports and New Initiatives
The start of a year usually heralds the publication of a number of annual reports or updates and here are a few notable examples that you may find particularly useful.
The Food Standards Agency of England and Northern Ireland published their performance report for 2021/22 and this makes fascinating reading in relation to their food safety objectives and deliverables over this period.
Public Health Scotland published their biennial report on gastrointestinal infections and zoonoses covering the period 2020/2021 and highlights the marked decrease in reports during Covid 19.
The US Food and Drug Administration published the update to their Food Code and this is probably one of the most comprehensive documents on food safety hazards and controls that you will find although you will need a large mug of coffee or tea to work through the near 700 page document.
The fourth Edition of Safe Food Australia – A Guide to Food Safety Standards was published in February 2023.
The World Health Organisation adopted its long signalled global strategy for food safety 2022-2030 at the 75th World Health Assembly just before the end of 2022.
The Food Safety 4EU network, supporting collaboration in shaping the food safety system of the future, published a number of thought provoking articles during 2022 and recently covered sustainability and food safety and eating during pregnancy. Their site is well worth a view.
On a slightly different topic, food fraud continues to be high on the agenda and, in a move to strengthen collaboration and resilience in this area, the UK Food Authenticity Network has worked with government, regulators, national crime units and food authenticity centres of expertise to agree a framework for a co-ordinated response to national/international food and feed fraud incidents/investigations. Although not directly related to this, it is encouraging to see that a further 15 individuals from France, Belgium and the Netherlands were sentenced to up to two years in prison for their role in a horsemeat scandal where meat unfit for consumption was introduced into the market. The activities by enforcement bodies to successfully fight fraud highlights the ongoing risk to the industry.
Know one’s onions (or mushrooms in this case)
It is approaching mushroom foraging season (well in the UK at least!) and an interesting review was published recently on the topic of mushroom poisoning in China, highlighting over 482 incidents of poisoning in 2022 affecting 1,332 individuals and resulting in28 deaths. For those intent on fungal foraging, there are some useful guides from Countryfile including the best mushroom identification books plus some helpful online content from Wild Food UK, and the Food Standards Agency also provides some generic guidance on safe foraging.
Food recall highlights of the month, edition 9
Let’s start with some interesting bacterial incidents and perhaps none more so than a case of botulism following the consumption of a brand of almond milk that prompted a product recall in Australia. The botulinum toxin was detected in a sample of the product and the underlying cause appears to be the lack of labelling on the product to keep it refrigerated resulting in inadvertent ambient storage.
Virtually every outbreak of botulism implicating chilled food has been caused by temperature abuse either in processing, retail or in the home and clear on-pack labelling is critical to ensuring safety.
Sticking with the topic of botulism, a suspected botulism outbreak in dairy cows highlighted the ongoing risks associated with feed/silage fed to animals. The UK Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACSMF) has previously reviewed the risk to humans from cattle botulism and considered this to be minimal, particularly due to the fact that neurotoxin types produced by C. botulinum affecting cattle rarely cause illness in humans and that diseased animals or their products are unlikely to enter the food chain.
Listeria monocytogenes contamination resulted a large recall of over 150 products (sandwiches, salads, yogurt, wraps) and was also the cause of recalls of Enoki mushrooms, Canadian cheddar cheese, fondue cheese, surface ripened cheese and goats cheese,
The presence of enteric pathogens prompted a number of recalls due to Salmonella spp. in raw, free-range eggs, alfalfa sprouts, halva, tahini, ground melon seeds and microgreens. Shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC) resulted in recalls of alfalfa sprouts and frozen herbs and Cronobacter spp. in fiber powder prompted a recall of this product.
Allergen recalls were dominated by incorrect labelling including a savoury snack (gluten), snack noodle pot (egg, milk, peanut, soy, sesame), Thai sauce (fish, crustaceans), protein bars (milk, peanut, soya), dark chocolate bar (milk), porridge pot (milk), chicken curry (crustaceans, molluscs), pasta sauce (milk), chocolates (milk), coated nuts and coffee beans (milk, soy, walnut), cake (egg), cookies, crackers and savoury snacks (milk, soy), mint cookies (peanut), mango drink (milk), king prawns (sulphur dioxide) and dry coconut (sulphur dioxide). Mispacking caused recalls of chicken bites (crustaceans), a candy bar (peanuts), chocolate caramels (pecan) and spice seasoning (sesame),
Physical contamination events included vegetarian ‘meat’ balls and grated cheddar cheese recalled due to the presence of plastic. Metal contamination prompted the recall of ravioli, chocolate cake and pizza whilst wood contamination led to the recall of chicken nuggets. Glass contamination resulted in the recall of a large number of coffee drinks.
Chemical issues included elevated Vitamin D in dry dog food, metronidazole in honey, mineral oil aromatic hydrocarbons (MOAH) in crisps, carbendazim in dried mushrooms, ochratoxin in dried figs and aflatoxin in ground melon seeds. The ongoing detection of undeclared sildenafil and tadalafil in drugs and supplements led to a number of recalls in male enhancement capsules.
A review of food safety in 2022
2022 proved to be a year where our industry emerged from the Covid 19 pandemic. We were then faced with major supply chain challenges brought on by the war in Ukraine that impacted energy prices, cost of goods and services and availability of key commodities. This has led to a structural shift in the sourcing of many goods and associated pressure on their quality, safety and authenticity.
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