12 January - 20 June 2016

Food safety

  • Avian flu virus forms calcium shells in birds but not humans
  • Seeking views on draft act on Bisphenol A
  • IBM collaboration to fight food contamination using blockchain
  • FSA publish update on Fipronil in eggs
  • Adult food allergy development is more common than previously thought
  • Negative effects of extreme pesticide exposure on birth outcomes
  • Survey reveals how much food UK households throw away
  • Fish eat plastic because it smells like food, study finds
  • One in 5 Canadian sausages mislabelled says study
  • Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food appointments

Avian flu virus forms calcium shells in birds but not humans
Researchers from Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China, have discovered a mineral layer coating the avian flu virus in birds which they think explains the high infection rates between birds but the low transmission rates between human. Their work has been recently published in the journal Angewandte Chemie. While avian flu can be transmitted from birds to humans, thought to be through close contact with birds or faeces, transmission between humans is limited. Tang et al. have discovered that the H9N2 and H1N1 viruses can form a shell of a calcium phosphate mineral around 5-6 nm thick when under calcium-rich conditions. In birds, the virus is typically located in the digestive tract which is calcium-rich so that birds can form egg shells. In cell cultures and mice, Tang et al. found the virus to be much more infections with the coating in place.  The coating changes the electric surface potential of the virus making it adsorb more efficiently to host cells. The researchers indicate that these findings explain how the virus can pass from birds to humans and shows why, once in a human host where the calcium concentration is too low, the transmission between humans is low. Tang et al. hope this discovery can help in tackling the disease. (Wiley)

Seeking views on draft act on Bisphenol A
The Commission wants to receive views on its draft act on the use of bisphenol A in varnishes and coatings intended to come into contact with food and amending Regulation (EU) No 10/2011.  Feedback is required by 20 September.

IBM collaboration to fight food contamination using blockchain
IBM in collaboration with Nestle, Unilever and Walmart have announced they are using blockchain to enable food businesses to trace and reduce food contamination.  IBM are reporting that using the distributed ledger technology, a decentralised log of data maintained on a network of computers, would enable business to keep a digital record of transactions, allowing all those involve in the food supply chain (growers, suppliers, processors, distributors, retailers, regulators and consumers) to source information about the origin, condition and movement of food, and to trace contaminated produce in a few seconds.  Using blockchain to trace contaminated products quickly would allow participants to remove them from the store shelves. A spokesperson is noted as saying that that using blockchain "allows all participants to share information rapidly and with confidence across a strong trusted network. This is critical to ensuring that the global food system remains safe for all." (CNBC, Essential Retail)

RSSL provides a quick, accurate and authoritative identification of foreign material and detection of physical contaminants in food. RSSL also specialise in resolving chemical contaminant issues, using a range of chemical analysis and technical expertise to identify both the contaminant and its root cause. To find out more please contact Customer Services telephone 0118 918 4076 or e-mail enquiries@rssl.com

FSA publish update on Fipronil in eggs
The Food Standards Agency has published an update on Fipronil in eggs.  Fipronil is a broad-spectrum insecticide and acaricide.  FSA report that "the current situation regarding the presence of Fipronil residues in eggs is believed to have been caused by the illegal use of the chemical on farms in the Netherlands to combat parasites in food-producing animals (chickens). This illegal activity has resulted in Fipronil being detected in eggs and chicken meat (meat from end-of-lifelaying hens) produced by these animals."  In its recent update, the agency has updated its withdrawal list of products and is continuing to trace egg products which may contain Fipronil.  "Products will be withdrawn if the amount of implicated egg is more than 15% of the product." FSA state that "It remains very unlikely that there is any risk to public health, but as Fipronil is not authorised for use in food producing animals we continue to track down implicated food products and ensure that they are removed from sale where they breach the limit."

Adult food allergy development is more common than previously thought
The popular press is reporting that early results from an American study have indicated that food allergy in adults is more common than thought.  The survey, led by paediatrician Dr Ruchi Gupta at North Western University and Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago involving 40,000 American adults, has revealed that just over half of American adults report developing at least one food allergy after the age of 18. Development of shellfish allergy was the most commonly reported with 4% stating that they were diagnosed as an adult, followed by peanut allergy at 2.4%.  The survey ensured that the allergy was based on IgE antibody, and asked multiple related questions on who the health-provider was, who diagnosed the allergy and symptoms experienced after exposure to the allergenic food. The researchers also tried to decipher the triggers of what could be causing these allergies by asking the participants what factors may have influenced food allergy development.  Answers varied from hormonal changes, to illness and changes of habitual location. The full results and trends of adult allergy will be published either later in the year or in early 2018. (Allergic Living)

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.

Negative effects of extreme pesticide exposure on birth outcomes
A study published in the journal Nature Communications by researchers from UC Santa Barbara has investigated residential agricultural pesticide exposure during pregnancy on birth weight, gestational length or birth abnormalities using a large sample of births (>500 000).  The team concentrated on San Joaquin Valley, California, as this region is a heavy pesticide-use region.  Negative effects of extreme pesticide exposure were found for all birth outcomes, but only for those exposed to 4,200 kilograms of pesticides applied in the 1-square-mile regions encompassing their addresses during pregnancy.  Lead author Ashley Larsen, an assistant professor in UCSB's Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, states "For the majority of births, there is no statistically identifiable impact of pesticide exposure on birth outcome. Yet mothers exposed to extreme levels of pesticides, defined here as the top 5 percent of the pesticide exposure distribution, experienced between 5 and 9 percent increases in the probability of adverse outcomes with an approximately 13-gram decrease in birth weight." The study concludes by stating "policies and interventions targeting the extreme right tail of the pesticide distribution near human habitation could largely eliminate the adverse birth outcomes associated with agricultural pesticide exposure documented in this study."

Survey reveals how much food UK households throw away
A survey of 2000 UK adults, commissioned by home appliance manufacturer Grundig and reported in the popular press, indicates that up to 70% of households throw away food before they get a chance to cook it on multiple occasions per month. In addition, around 47% of those questioned indicated that they often prepare too much food with an average of a tenth of the food prepared being wasted. The fact that 40% said they didn’t know how much rice or pasta to serve led to these commodities being the most common dishes for which too much was often prepared. Over 60% of survey participants indicated they thought they could guess how much of an ingredient was needed while 10% say they didn’t have time to weigh out ingredients. All-in-all, this led to an average of over 2kg of food that could have been saved being discarded each month. The food wasted was thrown away with other rubbish by nearly half those questioned while over 30% didn’t want to use a food waste bin as they found the idea off-putting although 37% said they would recycle more if the waste could help power homes. James Bellini, a futurologist speaking on behalf of Grundig indicated that "Given the crucial importance of food issues over the coming decades the level of general awareness and concern is surprisingly low". Bellini added that "In the end, technology has an important part to play in solving our food waste crisis, but without the commitment of people to new attitudes and a changed social outlook it will not be enough." (The Mirror)

Fish eat plastic because it smells like food, study finds
A study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society  suggests a new theory for why fish eat plastic discarded in the ocean. It had previously been considered that fish consumed small pieces of plastic accidentally when eating plankton or krill but now scientists from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration think that as the plastic breaks up, it gives off a smell like krill. Tests using anchovies showed that the odour released when plastic was mixed with salt water actually encouraged feeding behaviour. First author of the study, Dr Matthew Savoca, is quoted as saying that "These results demonstrate that odours associated with plastic debris stimulate a behavioural response consistent with foraging in captive anchovy schools". Savoca added that "These findings have considerable implications for aquatic food webs and possibly human health". Previous studies have estimated that 9 out of 10 seabirds have plastic in their guts due to eating fish which have ingested it while a study from Belgium estimated that those humans who eat seafood are likely to ingest up to 11,000 tiny pieces of plastic each year. This figure is also estimated to be rising year on year such that by 2100, regular seafood eaters might be ingesting over 750,000 pieces per year. (Telegraph)

One in 5 Canadian sausages mislabelled says study
A study conducted by researchers from the University of Guelph,Canada, funded by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and published in the journal Food Control has used a variety of methods to detect species present in sausages sold at retail markets in Canada and found an overall mislabelling rate of 20%. The researchers obtained 100 raw sausages labelled as a single species (beef, pork, chicken and turkey) from retailers across Canada. The study indicates that the predominant species was detected using DNA barcoding, a technique developed at the University of Guelph, while digital droplet PCR was used to detect contaminant species and real-time PCR was used to detect horse meat. Hanner et al found that, apart from five ‘turkey’ sausages where the predominant species was chicken, all sausages predominantly contained the species as per their label. The study also found that 20% of chicken sausages contained turkey and 5% contained beef. For the sausages labelled as pork, 5% contained beef and one sample contained horse meat. 6% of the beef sausages contained pork and five turkey sausage samples contained no turkey. Prof Robert Hanner noted that sausages labelled as a single species but which contain multiple meats contravene food labelling regulations.  He indicated that consumers might rely on products being of a single species for a variety of reasons including health and lifestyle and states that unknown ingredients could “allow the transfer of food pathogens”. Hanner is quoted in a press release as saying that “When there is a recall on a certain type of meat, we may miss it if it is present in a sausage product but not indicated on the label “. Hanner added that “This study demonstrates that the technology is capable of monitoring the industry in a way we were never able to do before and is just one example of how DNA testing is becoming a standard for food ingredient authentication” (University of Guelph)

RSSL uses PCR techniques to identify from over 20 species of meat including chicken, pork and beef in protein extracts and other complex ingredients as well as foodstuffs. For more information please contact Customer Services on +44 (0) 118 918 4076 or email enquiries@rssl.com.

Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food appointments
The Food Standards Agency Chairman, Heather Hancock has announced the appointment of Dr Gauri Godbole and Mrs Ann Williams to the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF). The ACMSF provides the Agency with independent advice on the microbiological safety of food. (FSA)

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