12 January - 20 June 2016

Food safety

  • UN/WHO report glyphosate unlikely to pose risk to humans 
  • Gluten-free diet may have little benefits for non-celiac children
  • What’s in your hamburger? US lab finds issues ranging from contamination to missing ingredients
  • FSAI report highlights need for pregnant women to have higher intakes of folic acid
  • FSA update advice on apricot kernels and bitter almond kernels following evaluation from EFSA
  • Study linking autism to high levels of folate criticised as being irresponsible
  • Research finds increase in undeclared allergen product recalls 
  • Nut-allergic customer dies after consuming curry assured to be peanut free 
  • Packaging that extends the shelf life of food and tells us when it is no longer fit to eat
  • Frozen Food plant linked to Listeriosis outbreak

UN/WHO report glyphosate unlikely to pose risk to humans
At a joint meeting on pesticides residues (JMPR) the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and World Health Organisation have found that the chemical, glyphosate, a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide, was “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet”.  The meeting notes: “The overall weight of evidence indicates that administration of glyphosate and its formulation products at doses as high as 2000 mg/kg body weight by the oral route, the route most relevant to human dietary exposure, was not associated with genotoxic effects in an overwhelming majority of studies conducted in mammals, a model considered to be appropriate for assessing genotoxic risks to humans. The Meeting concluded that glyphosate is unlikely to be genotoxic at anticipated dietary exposures” and it is unnecessary to establish an ARfD for glyphosate or its metabolites in view of its low acute toxicity.

Gluten-free diet may have little benefits for non-celiac children
The gluten-free food industry grew by 136% between 2013 and 2015 and while the incidence of celiac disease (CD) is increasing, it does not appear to be increasing at a rate which would explain this rate of growth for the industry. A commentary written by Dr. Norelle R. Reilly, from New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Centre, and due to be published in The Journal of Pediatrics looks at a number of commonly held misconceptions about the gluten-free diet which go some way to explaining this inconsistency. In the article, Reilly indicates that parents place children on a gluten-free diet “in the belief that it relieves symptoms, can prevent CD, or is a healthy alternative without prior testing for CD or consultation with a dietitian.” Reilly indicates that while a gluten-free diet is often considered a healthy choice, in those without CD there are no proven benefits and such a diet could increase calorie and fat intake and prevent easy diagnosis of CD.  The commentary suggests that some people also consider gluten to be toxic but states that there is no evidence to support this claim. Reilly notes that a gluten-free diet can lead to health benefits for a small set of people but that there is no evidence that it has benefits for children without a CD diagnosis and could present more risk that it does benefit. Reilly is quoted in a press release as concluding that “parents should be counselled as to the possible financial, social, and nutritional consequences of unnecessary implementation of a gluten-free diet." (EurekAlert)

RSSL are industry experts in allergens, and provide a comprehensive range of testing, training and food allergen consultancy services to help you control and manage allergens within manufacturing and retailing.  For more information please contact Customer Services on +44 (0) 118 918 4076 or email enquiries@rssl.com.  Don’t forget to join our Allergens in a Nutshell LinkedIn group

What’s in your hamburger? US lab finds issues ranging from contamination to missing ingredients
Clear Labs in California has tested 258 samples of hamburger meat from 79 brands and 22 retailers using their own designed method of molecular analysis and found that 13.6% of products tested had issues ranging from contamination to missing ingredients.  Issues were also found in 23% of the 89 vegetarian products tested including 2 products which contained traces of beef DNA and 14 samples having missing ingredients.  16 samples of the 258 were found to contain ingredients which were not listed including chicken, beef and pork. There were also hygiene issues with human DNA being found in one frozen burger product, whilst rat DNA found in three.  Pathogens were also detected in 4.3% of burgers, including E.coli, Yersinia enterocolitica and Clostridium perfrigens.  The nutritional content advertised on the packaging was also found to be incorrect on some of the products.  Forty six per cent contained more calories than advertised, 49% of the samples also had more carbohydrates.  This was also true in 47 fast food products which also had underestimated calorie content.  The company report that their findings will be verified by other laboratories.

RSSL' s DNA and Protein Laboratory uses PCR techniques to identify DNA from over 20 meat species including chicken, pork and beef in protein extracts and other complex ingredients as well as foodstuffs.   Routine meat speciation is also performed using ELISA techniques to detect pork, beef, lamb, poultry and horse (UKAS accredited).  For more information please contact Customer Services on +44 (0) 118 918 4076 or email enquiries@rssl.com 

FSAI report highlights need for pregnant women to have higher intakes of folic acid
A scientific report by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) highlights the need for women of childbearing age to have higher intakes of folic acid, in order to reduce the incidence of severe birth defects in Ireland. Produced by the FSAI’s Scientific Committee, the report provides a comprehensive update on folic acid nutrition and the efforts to reduce Irish rates of neural tube defects (NTDs) such as spina bifida and anencephaly, which are among the highest in the world. The report examines the effectiveness of increasing women’s folic acid intakes through food supplements and food fortification. This report summarises the options for further reducing the risk of NTD-affected pregnancies in Ireland. These options which have been presented to an expert group on folic acid set by the Minister for Health are: Option 1: Mandatory fortification together with voluntary fortification and advice on supplementation; Option 2: Voluntary fortification together with advice on supplementation. (FSAI)

FSA update advice on apricot kernels and bitter almond kernels following evaluation from EFSA
The Food Standards Agency is advising that bitter apricot kernels including the powdered forms should not be eaten. This is because a naturally-occurring substance in the kernels changes – after people eat the products – to cyanide. The updated advice follows a recent evaluation by the European Food Safety Authority (see FEN 625).

Study linking autism to high levels of folate criticised as being irresponsible
A study, which has indicated a link between autism and high levels of folate, has been criticised by scientists as irresponsible.  The findings by researchers from Bloomberg School of Public Health at John Hopkins presented at the International Meeting for Autism Research in Baltimore, suggest “if a new mother has a very high level of folate right after giving birth - more than four times what is considered adequate - the risk that her child will develop an autism spectrum disorder doubles. Very high vitamin B12 levels in new moms are also potentially harmful, tripling the risk that her offspring will develop an autism spectrum disorder. If both levels are extremely high, the risk that a child develops the disorder increases 17.6 times.”  The Independent notes that experts have stated that the study has not been fully peer-reviewed and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service are advising women who are planning pregnancies to continue to take folic acid supplements.  The authors of the study are quoted as saying: “This research suggests that this could be the case of too much of a good thing.”

Research finds increase in undeclared allergen product recalls
According to research from EMW, a commercial law firm, the number of food and drink products being removed from shelves as a result of unreported allergens on packaging has grown 60% in the UK in the last year.   In 2015 there were 96 products withdrawn due to unlisted allergens on packaging - up from the 60 withdrawals recorded in 2014.  It is thought that the new EU legislation, Food Information to Consumer Regulation, which came into force in December 2014, has significantly toughened up allergen labelling requirements in pre-packaged products, driving the increase in the number of products withdrawn. The law firm notes "Prior to the new legislation, manufacturers carrying out product risk assessments for allergens may have considered the amount of allergens in a product so small that the risk was negligible. Retailers and supermarkets, concerned about contravening EU laws, are putting food items increasingly under the microscope which has led to a growing number of product removals."

RSSL’s Emergency Response Service (ERS) helps customers deal with a wide range of product emergencies and offers advice on crisis management. It operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, providing access to scientists who can help identify the problem and provide solutions.  RSSL are industry experts in allergens, and provide a comprehensive range of testing, training and food allergen consultancy services to help you control and manage allergens within manufacturing and retailing.  For more information please contact Customer Services on +44 (0) 118 918 4076 or email enquiries@rssl.com.  Don’t forget to join our Allergens in a Nutshell LinkedIn group

Nut-allergic customer dies after consuming curry assured to be peanut free
An Indian restaurant owner is on trial after a customer died from eating a meal that contain peanuts. The owner of The Jaipur in Easingwold, North Yorkshire, Mohammed Zaman had substituted almond powder with a cheaper ground nut mix containing peanut in an attempt to reduce cost. However it is alleged he continued to sell meals containing peanuts whilst assuring customers they were safe for nut-allergy sufferers.  Paul Wilson suffered an allergic reaction and died after consuming a curry that was stating on the lid as containing “no nuts”.  Richard Wright QC is noted by the Telegraph as saying that Zaman deliberately cut corners because he was desperately needed to save cash, running his businesses at their overdraft limits. Zaman denies the manslaughter of Mr Wilson and also denies contravening EU food safety regulations.  The trial, expected to last three weeks, continues.

Packaging that extends the shelf life of food and tells us when it is no longer fit to eat
After 4 years, an EU project which aimed to develop a plant-based bioplastic packaging that extends shelf life and notifies when the product is no longer fit for consumption is ready to present its first prototypes. Using biopolymers which have been added to nanoparticle components, the packaging protects the product from its surroundings, improving oxygen barriers.  The approach is also noted as having a reduced carbon footprint. The project will demonstrate four prototypes including a blow-moulded bottle, a pot design to hold seafood and blow moulded film.  The containers are reported to have an oxygen-proof exterior coating.  The film is liken to a plastic foil which can be used to make plastic bags, and a covering for plates containing food. Sensors have been developed which can detect if the temperature of food becomes too high, for example, or if a product has become sour. However it is up to the manufacturer as to how the sensors are incorporated into the product, whether they are on the inside of the packaging and in contact with the food. (Science Daily)

Frozen Food plant linked to Listeriosis outbreak
A Listeriosis outbreak that started in 2013 and is still ongoing may have been contributed to by damaged equipment at a frozen food plant according to an FDA inspection. The plant, located in Pasco WA and owned by CRF Frozen Foods LLC was inspected over 4 days in March. The report notes a number of issues relating to equipment such that “the materials and workmanship of equipment and utensils does not allow proper cleaning and maintenance”. Production stopped on 25 April after the company was notified that frozen vegetables produced at plant were linked by genetic testing to a number of people who become ill following Listeria monocytogenes infections. More than 500 products across all 50 states and Canada have already been recalled by CRF Frozen Foods and others who use the frozen food within their products and it’s possible that more recalls may follow. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that at least 8 people have become ill since September 2013 and two people have died after the infection although CDC indicate that officials in those people’s home state do not consider Listeriosis to be the cause of death. A CDC spokesperson is quoted as saying that “Epidemiologic and laboratory evidence available at this time indicates that frozen vegetables produced by CRF Frozen Foods of Pasco, WA, and sold under various brand names are one likely source of illness in this outbreak,” but the FDA does not appear to be sure that this plant is the only, or root cause. A recent FDA report stated that “Investigations are ongoing to determine if food sources used to manufacture CRF Frozen Foods products could explain some of the illnesses”. The report also indicated that onions from the Oregon Potato Co are also under scrutiny and noted that “March 2016 environmental samples collected by FDA from Oregon Potato Company, located in Pasco, WA, were found to be closely related genetically to seven of the isolates of ill people associated with this outbreak,”. Oregon Potato Company voluntarily recalled wholesale onion products following the report. The outbreak is also having an economic effect as around 250 people have been laid-off by CRF Frozen Foods and growers who normally supply produce to the firm are also awaiting further investigations to determine the contamination source. (Food Safety News)

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