Managing foreign body contamination risk in the food chain

Posted: 30 June 2015 | | No comments yet

In May, UK supermarkets including Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Morrisons and Waitrose were forced to recall a variety of products with potato ingredients due to the presence of small metal pieces. While in this instance, this did not lead to any public health problems, such incidents are a constant concern for manufacturers and regulators alike, so what can be done to mitigate foreign object contaminant risk in the food chain.

The evolution of food manufacturing technology and process refinement over time has done a great deal to minimise the challenge of foreign bodies in the food chain. However, accidents and oversights can always occur, and every year a number of product recalls are required when unexpected items are discovered in foods, potentially leading to public health risks, costly recalls and damage to consumer confidence.

According to the UK Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) Annual Report of Incidents, there were 78 incidents of ‘physical contamination’ in the UK in 2014, leading to six recall information notices (RIN). 18 of these were due to presence of pests, with contamination by metal, glass and plastic recorded in 16, eight and six incidents respectively. To put this into context, the FSA was notified of and investigated 1,645 food, feed and environmental contamination incidents overall in 2014, issuing 23 RINs, 14 of which were for microbiological contamination.

According to the FSA, the source of the contamination in the recent potato product incident was traced back to the failure of a piece of processing equipment used to blanch the potatoes at an ingredient supplier. This led to pieces of metal breaking off the equipment and into the product line. According to a statement made by Sainsbury’s, the contamination was revealed when what it described as “a very small piece of metal” was found in a pack of an own brand fish pie during quality control checks. Although this was the only product confirmed to be contaminated, the discovery was enough to require the recall of 42 other products sold by Sainsbury’s, and a number of other items sold by Tesco, Waitrose and Morrisons, including many ‘own brand’ products…

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