The FSA comments follow the publication of its Annual Reports of Incidents 2011 document, which highlighted an increase in the number of food incidents it investigated last year, including reports of contaminated or illegal food entering the food chain.
It investigated a total of 1,714 food related incidents in 2011 – an increase on the 1,505 probed in 2010. Of these, 281 were cases of microbiological contamination. This was an increase on the 271 cases in 2010.
Food products originating from India helped drive the increase in incidents, accounting for 196 of the 1,714 incidents reported in 2011. China and Bangladesh followed closely, accounting for 91 and 78 respectively.
A FSA spokesperson told FoodQualityNews.com that no specific reason has been identified for the increase in reports, but that improvements in monitoring and reporting are two of the most likely contributing factors.
Monitoring and reporting
“We haven’t identified one particular reason for the increasing number of incidents. We believe a combination of factors is behind the rise, but the most likely is improved monitoring and reporting. For example, extra testing of paan leaves last year, following concerns about Salmonella contamination, has undoubtedly contributed to this year’s increase,” said the FSA spokesperson.
Earlier this year, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a report which appeared to show a rise in the number of foodborne disease outbreaks caused by tainted food imports in 2009 and 2010.
Imports from Asian countries accounted for 45% of the outbreak implicated foods recorded.
The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) denied that this was the case in the UK, despite the Indian, Chinese and Bangladeshi-driven incident report increase.
“We haven’t seen any evidence for that in the UK. As mentioned previously, improved monitoring and reporting is most likely to have contributed to the rise,” said the spokesperson.
FSA CEO Tim Smith moved to reassure the UK that the increase in reported incidents instead signifies improvements in monitoring.
“The UK has some of the most robust food safety safeguards in the world. When such incidents do occur, the food industry, the FSA, other government agencies, and enforcement officers locally, work quickly to isolate any risks and remove affected products from shelves. I hope that this report gives consumers confidence that our systems are working and working well,” said Smith.
FDA recalls down
The latest food-related monitoring figures from the US contradict the FSA report, reporting a decrease in the number of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recalls recorded in the first quarter of 2012 compared with the previous three months.
According to the report, which was compiled by ExpertRECALL, there were just 142 documented food recalls in the first three months of 2012. However, this also represents a 26% increase on the same quarter of 2011.
More than 130 companies initiated recalls for nearly 7m units in the first quarter – the lowest number of units recalled in the last three quarters.