A series of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) breaches has been announced by the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA), who described the risk to human health as “very low”.
The food safety body said the incidents included beef quarters being sold on under the wrong conditions, meat from a cow entering the food chain without being tested for BSE and beef and goat issues originating from Belgium.
It added that it was “probable” that some of the meat was consumed but said it was “very unlikely” that any of the animals would have been infected.
Only three cases of BSE were recorded in the UK in 2012 and none entered the food chain, said the FSA.
Beef quarters incident
On 7 December 2012, during an inspection at Simply Halal (Banham), a combined slaughterhouse and cutting premises in Norfolk, it was found that 25 beef quarters had left the premises without the vertebral column being removed.
Simply Halal sold the quarters to a meat wholesaler and due to the wholesaler's records being incomplete, only one of the quarters was traced and destroyed.
The vertebral column of cattle over 30 months is specified risk material (SRM) and must be removed.
In another incident, meat from a cow over 72 months of age entered the food chain without being tested for BSE.
The animal was slaughtered on 11 October 2012, at Woolley Bros (Wholesale Meats), a combined abattoir and cutting plant in Sheffield. The error was discovered on 4 December during routine cross-checks of slaughter and BSE testing data.
The four affected carcasses were sold as part of consignment of 90 beef sides to the Netherlands and cheek meat from the same batch was sold to a business in Germany.
Since 1 March 2013 there is requirement to test healthy slaughtered cattle over 72 months of age for BSE before they enter the food supply.
Belgian authorities told the FSA on 1 October 2012, that consignments of beef that may contain meat from six cattle over 72 months of age had been exported to three businesses in the UK without being tested for BSE. Investigations revealed that most had already been sold to the final consumer and been eaten, but 11 pallets were traced to a UK coldstore and destroyed.
Goat spleen On 5 July 2012, during a routine inspection at London Central Markets (Smithfield), a goat carcass with spleen attached was discovered.
Goat spleen is specified risk material (SRM) and must be removed at the slaughterhouse as it consists of the parts of the animal most likely to carry BSE infection.
The FSA said there were also a significant number of hygiene issues with the consignment and all of the carcasses were detained and none entered the food supply.
FDA reopens BSE comment
Meanwhile, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has re-opened the comment period until 3 May for the interim rule protecting consumers from BSE due to data from scientific studies since its 2005 ruling.
The rule prohibits the use of certain cattle parts in food, including dietary supplements, and cosmetics. But the small intestine of cattle can be used in the above areas if the portion of the small intestine known as the distal ileum has been properly removed.
“Since 2005, there have been scientific studies that found trace levels of infectivity in parts of cattle small intestine, other than the distal ileum, from animals with BSE. However, FDA believes that the levels of infectivity are so low that they do not pose a significant health risk to humans…," said the agency.