05/04/05 - Europe’s Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health(CCFAC) endorsed a Commission proposal to add curcuma (turmeric) andvirgin palm oil to the list of food products which must be certified asfree of sudan dyes (sudan I, II, III and Scarlet Red/Sudan IV), in orderto gain entry into the EU.
Two recent incidents of turmeric contamination and 97 cases ofsudan-contaminated palm oil for sale on the European food market promptedthe Commission to call for tighter controls for both these foodstuffs.
Once details of the measures are cleared, the tighter rules mean thatimports of both these foodstuffs must be accompanied by certificates toprove they are free of the carcinogenic sudan red food dye. Suchcertificates are currently required for all imports of chilli and chillipowder products into Europe.
Recent events over sudan 1 in the UK led the Commission to look again atthe threat it poses to the food chain, a spokesperson for the Commissiontold FoodNavigator.com yesterday, referring to the country’s largest foodproduct recall in history that centred around a sudan 1 scare.
Over 600 well known processed foods were pulled from the supermarketshelves after the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) detected the illegaldye in a batch of worcester sauce made by St.Albans-based Premier Foods.
Supplying both retail and industrial ingredient markets, Premier Foodsidentified 340 customers from their database who may have been suppliedwith the contaminated worcester sauce.
As a warning the food industry yesterday, Europe’s health commissionerMarkos Kyprianou said:"“In order to ensure the highest possible levels ofprotection for European consumers. I would urge all food operators andMember State authorities to ensure that products containing these dyes(sudan) do not enter the EU market, this is their responsibility".
Extending the certificate paper trail is a harbinger of higher costs forfood makers, traders and ingredients players that buy and sell either thespice turmeric, used to colour foods and as a key ingredient in currypastes, or the vegetable palm oil.
Between 1997-2001 global annual imports of turmeric hit 33,000 MT, withEurope importing just under 20 per cent of this figure, about 6,200 MT.Along with chilli, India is the biggest exporter of turmeric.
And palm oil is becoming increasingly important as an ingredient in a widerange of foods, not least because it is free of artery-clogging, andincreasingly unpopular, trans fats. Because palm oil is semi-solidnaturally, it does not require hydrogenation. This vegetable oil is nowsecond only to soybean oil in terms of global demand, accounting for 28per cent of total edible oil sales.
Eager to minimise risk, and avoid the potential brand and bottom linedamage likely to be experienced by Premier Foods, testing turmeric andpalm oil to be used in formulation is probably inevitable for foodmanufactuers and will demand a certain investment, even with a certificatein hand.
Speaking to FoodNavigator.com, the UK’s food and drink body the Food andFederation said yesterday, "it is difficult to comment about the fullimplication of these measures, but we can expect cost and timeimplications in setting up the testing procedures," says a spokesperson.
Prices will vary for the tests, often outsourced by food manufacturers tofood labs. UK laboratory Reading Scientific Services the declined todisclose prices, for example, provides a screening method for Sudan I - IVthat on a small 25 to 100 gram sample can detect for contamination withina couple of hours.
And compounding costs, the UK’s FSA pointed out to FoodNavigator.com thatunlike current measures for sudan-free certificates of chilli and chillipowders, additional measures passed by the Brussels vote yesterday meanthat the authenticity of the certificates must also be verified.
"This is new for these two foodstuffs, and we don’t yet know if this willbe extended to chilli measures," says the spokesperson.
In other words, someone, somewhere, will have to foot the bill to ensurethat the testing behind the certificate is authentic.
At the same time as issuing the new measures, the Commission issued a ‘reminder’ to the food industry on key obligations for food safety: in theform of a seven point leaflet,, the list includes a reference totraceability, transparency and prevention. "We see it as a reminder fromthe Commission, but responsible operators are complying already," the FDFcommented to FoodNavigator.com.