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Milk and salmon contamination feature in food safety alerts

By Ahmed ElAmin , 19-Jan-2006

Alerts about ink chemicals in Italian milk and doctored salmon from Norway dominate the latest EU's food safety advisory.

The EU's rapid alert notification list serves as an early warning system for regulators from member states and for those along the supply chain who use the foods as ingredients.

The processing industry is under regulatory and consumer pressure to ensure better safety of their products. In addition to the damage to a firm's reputation and market share a food safety problem may cause, huge expenses may be incurred due to product recalls and fines.

A total of 78 alerts about contaminated foods were issued during the second week of January. Last week Norway informed the Commission that its regulator had found unauthorised nitrites in smoked or cured salmon and trout produced by its fish processors.

Eight processors were caught using nitrites to make their fish look fresher. Norway's Consumer Council claims that the producers have damaged the country's reputation by using the additive and has asked the Norwegian Food Safety Authority to file criminal charges against the fish producers.

Nitrites stabilize food colour and influence taste. Nitrites are not considered a direct problem. But the additive reacts with amines in foodstuffs and transforms into carcinogenic nitrosamines.

Six other food alerts were filed by Italy, after the country said it found isopropyl thioxanthone (ITX), a packaging chemical, in a number of drink products.

ITX was found in chocolate and cocoa milk products sourced from Austria. ITX was found in baby milk, grapefruit juice and pineapple juice produced within Italy. The country said it also found ITX in milk and cocoa beverages from Germany.

ITX hit the headlines in September after Italy's food safety regulators detected it in some batches of Nestlé's products. The packaging was produced by Sweden-based Tetra Pak.

The ink curing agent was found to have migrated through the packaging and into the milk.

Tetra Pak stopped using ITX in the packing for the affected Nestlé products in October after being informed of the problem. The company is also phasing out the use of ITX in other fatty liquid products and for some juices.

The resulting controversy led to claims and counterclaims about the safety of the chemical by the Italian government, consumer groups, Nestlé and Tetra Pak.

In December the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said scientific evidence indicates that the presence of the chemical in packaged foods does not pose a health risk.

Other safety alerts issued last week include Austria's finding of unauthhorised Sudan 1 and Sudan 4 colours in paprika powder sourced from Germany.

Norway found Salmonella Typhimurium in frozen wild duck fillets, imported from the Netherlands via Belgium. Spain found Listeria monocytogenes in goat cheese produced within its borders.

Denmark issued two alerts about unauthorised novel food supplements from two products imported from the US. The food supplements were not identified.

Meanwhile, aflatoxins found in pistachio nuts from Iran were the subject of 13 separate alert notices from various countries.

Last year 538 notifications concerned aflatoxins in pistachios, of which 487 concerned those primarily originating from Iran. As a result the European Commission cracked down on imports from Iran and put in place new measures. All consignments from the country are analysed twice, the first time prior to export by Iran's regulators and the second time prior to import by the EU member state.

The EU has also limited the validity of the health certificates issued to Iran's exports to four months. The bloc also requires that all costs resulting from sampling, analysis, storage and official measures taken regarding non compliant consignments to be borne by the importers or food business operators concerned.

Last year Eurosurvelliance, the EU's cross-border warning network, recorded 691 alerts about bad foods. That's a 52 per cent jump in the number of alerts over the previous year.

Alerts record incidents of contaminated food or feed that may have crossing into other members' borders. Another 1,897 information notices, a two per cent rise, recorded incidents that remained contained within an individual country, or arrived as exports to the bloc and were stopped at its borders.

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