12 January - 20 June 2016

Pests, glass and metal top foreign bodies found in food

A study published in the journal Food Control has examined different types of foreign matter reported in food and drink over 20 years (1998-2015) in a variety of food products. Using the RASFF database Djekic et al. carried out cluster analysis to investigate where notifications occurred, food products involved and types of foreign materials.

To monitor various aspects of food safety and food fraud, the European Union uses an interactive database called the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF).  Foreign bodies are physical contaminants that represent a food safety hazard and could cause injury, disease or trauma to a consumer ranging from glass, metal or plastic.  They are one of the biggest causes of customer complaints.

A study published in the journal Food Control has examined different types of foreign matter reported in food and drink over 20 years (1998-2015) in a variety of food products. Using the RASFF database Djekic et al. carried out cluster analysis to investigate where notifications occurred, food products involved and types of foreign materials. They also extracted further information on date of notification, product category, country notifying, classification (such as alert, information, and border rejection), and subject and risk decision (serious, not serious and undecided).

During the period 1998 and 2015 Djekic et al report there were a total of 1446 notifications under the category foreign body.  Notifications were from the EU as well as the non-EU members Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Serbia.  The top three food categories for food notifications were for fruit and vegetables (24.8%); nuts, nut products seed (21.1%); bakery and confectionery product (17.6%), with fruits and vegetables and cereal and cereal products recognised as the types of food mostly associated with incidence of foreign body contamination in the UK. 

Djekic et al report an association between the type of food contaminated and region were the alert was reported. In western European countries meat and dairy products were dominant, in south European countries fruit and vegetables and in northern European countries bakery products and confectionary.

The top three foreign bodies were reported to be pests (54.6%), glass (17.4%) and metal (11.5%). Glass and plastic were the top foreign bodies reported in the UK.  The study notes that “relationship between food and foreign materials in the UK show that in vegetables glass and plastic prevail while in cereal glass and pests." The two groups of pests are insects, those that feed on the food and a range of species that have "no particular interest in the food concerned but are associated with it, mainly from storage and distribution.”  The authors suggest that this finding potentially highlights ineffective pest control within the food industry.  Djekic et al. state that the main cause of glass contamination is from breakage of bottles/jar on a filling line with subsequent fragments entering into other unbroken jar or bottles on the same line.  The authors note that whilst metal detectors are often used on production lines, metal is still a reported issue.  Regarding classification, "border rejection were recorded mostly in Eastern European countries. Alerts prevail more in western and northern European countries".  The majority of risks were categorised as undecided (78.3%), followed by not serious (11.8%) and serious (9.9%).

Dejic et al discuss their findings and suggest that training of staff is needed for using detection equipment and raising awareness of physical hazards.  They state that “food handler training programs are often inconsistent and programme evaluation is rarely conduction.” 

RSSL's Microscopy Laboratory has industry leading expertise in the detection and identification of foreign bodies in a wide range of food and pharmaceutical products. To find out more please contact Customer Services telephone 0118 918 4076 or e-mail enquiries@rssl.com

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