12 January - 20 June 2016

Food safety

  • European Commission draft recommendation on controlling food supplements sold on the internet
  • Raw pork or undercooked pork meat is main cause of hepatitis E infection in EU
  • California add glyphosate to list of cancer causing chemicals
  • Exposure to neonicotinoids reduces honey bee health
  • Top food safety mistakes made by hospitality staff and the general public
  • Preventing the spread of norovirus
  • A significant impact on global safety and security – sequencing of genome of Wilder Emmer wheat
  • New EU action plan to tackle antimicrobial resistance
  • EFSA re-evaluate safe intake level for glutamic acid and glutamates used as food additives

European Commission draft recommendation on controlling food supplements sold on the internet
The European Commission has published a draft recommendation on a “coordinated control plan on the official control of certain foods marketed through the Internet”.  Offers and sales of food on the Internet are increasing which pose specific challenges to competent authorities.  A report in 2015 by the commission found that a large numbers of food supplements are being sold on the Internet.  To prevent unsafe practices the European Commission state that “official controls on Internet offers and sales need to be strengthened.” Since 2010 rapid alerts on food supplements have doubled including those from Internet sales.  The European Commission has states that “therefore, Member States should implement a coordinated control plan for food supplements and novel foods sold via the Internet. They should communicate to the Commission the results of the official controls performed.”

Raw pork or undercooked pork meat is main cause of hepatitis E infection in EU
EFSA are reporting that consumption of raw or undercooked pork meat and liver is the most common cause of hepatitis E infection in the EU.  EFSA note that in the EU domestic pigs are the main carriers of hepatitis E.  Over the last 10 years there have been over 21,000 cases of hepatitis E infections reported in humans. EFSA’s Panel on Biological Hazards recommend that Member States increase awareness of the public health risks associated with raw and undercooked pork meat and advise consumers to cook pork meat thoroughly. They also recommend the development of suitable methods for detecting hepatitis E in food.

California add glyphosate to list of cancer causing chemicals
Reuters are reporting that California has added glyphosate to a list of cancer causing chemicals.  In a ruling in 2015 WHO organisation classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic”.  Monsanto are appealing against the California ruling.  If they lose the appeal, then they, and other glyphosate producers would have about a year to re-label products or remove them from the shelves.  Reuters quote Scott Partridge, Monstano’s vice president of global strategy as saying: “This is not the final step in the process and it has no bearing on the merits of the case.  We will continue to aggressively challenge this improper decision.”

Exposure to neonicotinoids reduces honey bee health
Biologists from York University are reporting in Science that honeybees exposed to realistic field level of neonicotinoids, die sooner, reducing the health of the entire colony. Using RFID fitted on the back of worker honeybees, the researchers found the neonicotinoid contaminated pollen collected by the honeybees came not from crops grown from neonicotinoid treated seeds, but plants growing in areas adjacent to those crops.  The bees were studied during May to September, in five apiaries close to corn grown from neonicotinoid-treated seeds and six apiaries that were far from agriculture. The scientists also fed the bees, over a 12-week period, artificial pollen supplements containing progressively smaller amounts of the most commonly used neonicotinoid.  The worker bees exposed to this supplement during the first nine days of life had their lifespans cut short by 23%. The scientists report that the colonies that were exposed to treated pollen were unable to maintain a healthy laying queen  and had poor hygiene.

Top food safety mistakes made by hospitality staff and the general public
The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) have produced a report noting the top food safety mistakes made by both hospitality staff and the general public.  The society notes that aside from not thoroughly and regularly washing hands, which is a repeated hygiene mistake, they list the top five most prevalent examples of bad practice in the kitchen as being:

  • “If it looks alright and smells alright, you can eat it” - They note that some dangerous pathogens in very low numbers in food may not be detectable through sight, smell or taste but can cause severe illness and even death
  • Cross contamination – using one pair of tongs for a BBQ - Using one pair of tongs can cause cross contamination between raw and cooked food, and whilst people seem to think about this when preparing food in the kitchen this practice is often forgotten when barbequing.
  • Mixing raw meat with ready to eat food - Whilst the catering industry follows strict food segregation practices, the general public don’t seem to appreciate the risk of food poisoning
  • Washing raw chicken - When people wash raw chicken, the bacteria Campylobacter, which is killed by through cooking is spread throughout a kitchen.
  • Pets in the kitchen - Pets should be kept off the work surface and ideally should be kept out of kitchens entirely as they can still spread all kinds of pathogens.

Mistakes that occurs in the hospitality industry include:

  • Buffets can be a hot-bed for bacteria - At temperatures between 5-63oC bacteria can thrive and if cooked food is not cool quickly below this limit, then this can be a high risk factor for food poisoning
  • Working when ill – there is a lack of understanding of infectious diseases and how easily these can be spread.  Staff can overlook a recent illness and fail to report it due to pressure not to lose out on work
  • Prevent allergen contamination – There is still insufficient understanding of the controls needed to prevent allergen contamination.
  • Unclean cloths can be a prime risk for spreading pathogens all around a food preparation setting. 
  • Temperature checking- whilst staff may check the temperature of the fridge, staff should also check the food itself. (Evening Standard)

Allergen Management Services: RSSL provide a comprehensive range of testing, training and food allergen consultancy services to help you control and manage allergens within manufacturing and retailing. To find out more please contact Customer Services telephone 0118 918 4076 or e-mail enquiries@rssl.com.

Preventing the spread of norovirus
Research carried out by Ipso MORI and published by the Food Standards Agency has identified strategies that could be used to stop the ‘winter vomiting bug’ norovirus from spreading.  A literature review identified key strategies for controlling norovirus.  The key findings were personal hygiene, food handling, washing and cooking food, surface and uniform cleaning and fitness to work.   Using in-depth interviews, surveys and structure environmental and behavioural observations, from visiting food catering establishment, the researchers found inadequate hand washing; not washing hands before gloving; using bare hands when preparing food; not regularly changing gloves; food handlers instead of trained staff cleaning areas where people vomited; not washing uniform correctly; and returning to work too early after being ill. The researchers reporting that there was inadequate knowledge on how to stop norovirus spreading, and recommend that educational training is provided to food handlers.

A significant impact on global safety and security – sequencing of genome of Wilder Emmer wheat
Researchers spanning several different institutions from around the world have managed to regenerate the Wild Emmer wheat genome sequence which they believe will have “a significant impact on global food safety and security.”  The scientists used a rapid sequencing technology produce by NRGene, to sequence the genome.  The team report in a press release that wheat accounts for 20% of the calories humans consume worldwide, so the aim is to concentrate on improving wheats quality and yield.  They note that the wheat genome is more complex than most crops and by using this information they will be able to see how wild Emmer “has undergone a long evolutionary history under the drought-prone Mediterranean climate” and “improve and better understand nutritional mechanisms.” (Eurekalert)

New EU action plan to tackle antimicrobial resistance
A new EU plan has been launched by the European Commission to tackle antimicrobial resistance (AMR).  The plan is based around three areas: make Europe a best practice region; boost research, development and innovation; and shape the global agenda.  EFSA report they will continue to support AMR by providing scientific advice, evidence-based analysis and data, and One-Health surveillance and reporting.

Link between phthalates and diseases in men – study
Adelaide researchers have investigated total phthalate exposure among 1500 Australian men and found a positive association between total phthalates and cardiovascular disease, type-2-diabetes, hypertension. The Food Standards Agency defines phthalates as “a group of compounds that are used as plasticisers and found in a wide range of consumer and household goods. Phthalates may be present in food due to migration from food contact materials, including processing equipment and packaging. However, they are also widespread and persistent in the environment and may therefore enter the food chain from environmental sources”. Shi et al. detected phthalates in urine samples in 99.6% of those aged 35 and over.  Those with the highest levels had the higher rates of diseases and increased levels of inflammatory biomarkers in the body even the scientists took into account body weight, socio-economic and lifestyle factors.  The leading author of the study Professor Zumin Shi is quoted by the press as saying that they do not understand the reasons why phthalates are linked to these disease.  However they state that “the chemicals impact on the human endocrine system, which controls hormone release that regulate the body’s growth, metabolism, and sexual development and function.” (The Advertiser, Indaily)

RSSL can help resolve chemical contamination issues, from initial identification of the contaminants in foods to recognising its root cause.  To find out more please contact Customer Services telephone 0118 918 4076 or e-mail enquiries@rssl.com.

EFSA re-evaluate safe intake level for glutamic acid and glutamates used as food additives
After re-evaluating the safety of glutamic acid and glutamates used as additives, EFSA has concluded that estimated dietary exposure to glutamic acid and glutamates may exceed not only the safe level but also doses associated with adverse effects in humans for some population groups.  Glutamic acid is an amino acid, a building block of proteins, naturally produced in humans and occurring in free form, for example, in tomatoes, soy sauce or certain cheeses.  EFSA are now calling for a review on the maximum permitted levels for these food additives.  Currently, there is no numerical safe intake level (ADI) specified for glutamic acid and glutamates used as food additives in the EU. In the EU the addition of glutamates is generally permitted up to a maximum level of 10 g/kg of food.

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