It found most notifications came from Eastern Europe and fruit and veg, nuts and confectionery products were the main food categories, covering almost two thirds of all notifications.
Researchers reviewed the different types of foreign matter reported in Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) during 1998–2015.
A total of 1,446 incidents were looked at in terms of types of foreign bodies, food products involved and geographic distribution.
Customer complaints ‘significant issue’
Consumer complaints regarding physical contaminates (foreign bodies) from food products will continue to be a significant issue for industry, said the researchers.
Physical contaminants are the biggest single source of customer complaints received by many food manufacturers, retailers and enforcement authorities, according to Edwards & Stringer (2007).
The top three foreign body materials notified were pest (54.6%), glass (17.4%) and metal.
Metal fragments were often reported despite widespread use of metal detectors and magnets on production lines.
Researchers said the high rate of pests in the RASFF database indicates ineffective control within the food chain.
Glass and metal are reported in western European countries, pests in Eastern European countries and plastic, rubber and wood in northern European countries.
Foreign matter can be controlled by measures including metal detectors, X-ray machines and magnets, mechanical separation methods such as sieving, flotation and gravity separation, automatic vision systems and visual inspection by staff.
Number of notifications per year is between just below 90 and 150, except for 2011 which had 213 notifications.
Regional distribution and product type
Researchers said data from a wide range of foreign bodies demonstrates in many cases the occurrence of foreign bodies is ‘far from random’.
Regional distribution shows that the scatter of notifications is rather similar with most coming from Eastern Europe.
Alerts prevail in western and northern European countries. Border rejections were recorded mostly in eastern European countries.
Regarding risk decision, the majority were categorized as ‘undecided’ (78.3%), followed by ‘not serious’ (11.8%) and ‘serous’ (9.9%).
The top three product categories were fruit and vegetables (24.8%), nuts, nut products and seeds (21.1%) and bakery and confectionery products (17.6%).
Meat and dairy products were dominant in western countries, fruits and vegetables in south European countries and confectionery and bakery products in northern European countries.
There were statistically significant differences between fruits and vegetables, nuts and bakery & confectionery products. Nuts were mainly notified from eastern European countries.
“Analysis of foreign bodies present in European food using data from Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF)”
Authors: Ilija Djekic, Danijela Jankovic and Andreja Rajkovic