Nuts containing mould, frozen strawberries contaminated with hepatitis pathogens, and pesticide-laden vegetables – more than 3,000 products were objected by EU authorities in 2013. With increasing government, industry and consumer concerns about the hazards of food contaminants, and the risks they pose, food manufacturers, governments and non-governmental agencies, are implementing policies and processes to monitor and reduce contaminants.
Key food contaminants
Food contaminants cover a wide range of potential substances including:
- Dioxins: Produced as unintentional by-products of industrial processes such as waste incineration, chemical manufacturing and paper bleaching, dioxins can be found in the air, in water and contaminated soil.
- Allergens: Virtually all of the known food allergens are proteins that can subsist in large quantities and often survive food processing.
- Genetically modified organisms (GMOs): Banned in a number of countries, controversy still exists with regard to the use of GMOs. Selling food and/or feed that is non-GMO in restricted markets places the burden of proof on the supply chain.
- Heavy metals: Whilst heavy metals, such as lead (Pb), cadmium (Cd), mercury (Hg) and arsenic (As), can be found in nature, industrial and environmental pollutants have resulted in their increased presence in food and feed.
- Hormones: Commonly used in animal husbandry to promote growth, hormone residues can be found in the food supply.
- Melamine: Harmful to animal and human health, melamine is not a permitted food additive.
- Mycotoxins: Produced by several strains of fungi found on food and feed products, mycotoxins are often invisible, tasteless, and chemically stable both at high temperatures and during long periods of storage.
- Pesticide residues: Over-use of pesticides can lead to dangerous levels of hazardous chemicals entering the food chain with fresh fruit and vegetables being most susceptible to pesticide residues.
- Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs): Used in many products, some PCBs are toxic and stable enough to resist breaking down even when released into the environment.
- Radiation contamination: There are three ways that foodstuffs can become contaminated by radiation: surface, ground and water contamination.
- Veterinary drug residues: Used in the treatment of animals, veterinary drugs can leave residues in animals subsequently sent into the food chain. The impact of contaminants varies. Depending on their toxicity and the level of contamination their effects can range from causing skin allergies, to more serious illnesses (including cancers and neurological impairments) and, in the most extreme cases, death.
To ensure that your food and feed products are fit for consumption, you need to test for specific contaminants throughout the value chain. For example, in concentrated levels, melamine, antibiotics and hormones can be harmful to animals and humans. Only thorough contaminant testing will determine if the above-mentioned impurities, among others, are present. After identification the relevant goods can be eliminated from the production and distribution chain.
Maximum levels and regulations
In order to protect consumers, maximum levels permitted in food products have been set by food safety legislation in many countries. Disappointingly, and despite efforts in some product areas, maximum levels are rarely harmonized across national borders. This inconsistency places responsibility for compliance firmly with the food supply chain. A comprehensive testing program can verify that your products meet maximum levels and the safety standards they represent.
In the European Union (EU), it is the food business operator who carries primary responsibility for food safety and the General Food Law Regulation (EC) 178/20022 is the primary EC legislation on general food safety. More specific directives and regulations compliment this, for example, EU regulations concerning non-GMO/GMO products, include Directive 2001/18/EC and regulations 1829/2003 and 1830/2003.
The U.S. Food and Drugs Administration has overseen the development and signing into law of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Within the U.S., state regulators retain the right to apply additional regulations and laws. As result, rules regarding maximum levels, for example, vary from state to state.
In China, the Food Safety Law (FSL) was passed into law by the Chinese government in 2009. It introduced enhanced provision for monitoring and supervision, improved safety standards, recalls for substandard products and dealing with compliance failures.
Brazil’s food safety agency, Anvisa, coordinates, supervises and controls activities to assure health surveillance over food, beverages, water, ingredients, packages, contamination limits, and veterinary residues for import. No specific restrictions have been established yet for export.
Monitoring programs are frequently used to identify any contamination issues. From seeds, through the growing process and harvest, transportation, collection, storing and processing to the market channel, independent monitoring delivers credible and independently collected data on both quality and contaminants.
With so many policies and standards, both nationally and internationally, anyone involved in the food industry needs to be sure of accurate and up-to date information on food contaminant regulations. Whether mycotoxins or microbiological values, heavy metals or pesticides – independent sampling and testing provide an objective and comprehensive overview of what grain and food products contain.
For more information, please visit: www.SGS.com/foodsafety.