Europe's Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (CCFAC) endorsed a Commission proposal to add curcuma (turmeric) and virgin palm oil to the list of food products which must be certified as free of sudan dyes (sudan I, II, III and Scarlet Red/Sudan IV), in order to gain entry into the EU.
Two recent incidents of turmeric contamination and 97 cases of sudan-contaminated palm oil for sale on the European food market prompted the Commission to call for tighter controls for both these foodstuffs.
Once details of the measures are cleared, the tighter rules mean that imports of both these foodstuffs must be accompanied by certificates to prove they are free of the carcinogenic sudan red food dye. Such certificates are currently required for all imports of chilli and chilli powder products into Europe.
"Recent events over sudan 1 in the UK led the Commission to look again at the threat it poses to the food chain," a spokesperson for the Commission told FoodNavigator.com yesterday, referring to the country's largest food product recall in history that centred around a sudan 1 scare.
Over 600 well known processed foods were pulled from the supermarket shelves after the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) detected the illegal dye in a batch of worcester sauce made by St.Albans-based Premier Foods.
Supplying both retail and industrial ingredient markets, Premier Foods identified 340 customers from their database who may have been supplied with the contaminated worcester sauce.
As a warning the food industry yesterday, Europe's health commissioner Markos Kyprianou said: "In order to ensure the highest possible levels of protection for European consumers. I would urge all food operators and Member State authorities to ensure that products containing these dyes (sudan) do not enter the EU market, this is their responsibility".
Extending the certificate paper trail is a harbinger of higher costs for food makers, traders and ingredients players that buy and sell either the spice turmeric, used to colour foods and as a key ingredient in curry pastes, or the vegetable palm oil.
Between 1997-2001 global annual imports of turmeric hit 33,000 MT, with Europe importing just under 20 per cent of this figure, about 6,200 MT. Along with chilli, India is the biggest exporter of turmeric.
And palm oil is becoming increasingly important as an ingredient in a wide range of foods, not least because it is free of artery-clogging, and increasingly unpopular, trans fats. Because palm oil is semi-solid naturally, it does not require hydrogenation. This vegetable oil is now second only to soybean oil in terms of global demand, accounting for 28 per cent of total edible oil sales.
Eager to minimise risk, and avoid the potential brand and bottom line damage likely to be experienced by Premier Foods, testing turmeric and palm oil to be used in formulation is probably inevitable for food manufactuers and will demand a certain investment, even with a certificate in hand.
Speaking to FoodNavigator.com, the UK's food and drink body the Food and Federation said yesterday, "it is difficult to comment about the full implication of these measures, but we can expect cost and time implications in setting up the testing procedures," says a spokesperson.
Prices will vary for the tests, often outsourced by food manufacturers to food labs. UK laboratory Reading Scientific Services the declined to disclose prices, for example, provides a screening method for Sudan I - IV that on a small 25 to 100 gram sample can detect for contamination within a couple of hours.
And compounding costs, the UK's FSA pointed out to FoodNavigator.com that unlike current measures for sudan-free certificates of chilli and chilli powders, additional measures passed by the Brussels vote yesterday mean that the authenticity of the certificates must also be verified.
"This is new for these two foodstuffs, and we don't yet know if this will be extended to chilli measures," says the spokesperson.
In other words, someone, somewhere, will have to foot the bill to ensure that the testing behind the certificate is authentic.
At the same time as issuing the new measures, the Commission issued a 'reminder' to the food industry on key obligations for food safety: in the form of a seven point leaflet, , the list includes a reference to traceability, transparency and prevention. "We see it as a reminder from the Commission, but responsible operators are complying already," the FDF commented to FoodNavigator.com.