Use of sulphites in food is tightly regulated in the Netherlands. “Vleesfraude” or meat fraud was committed by Dutch meat processors and butchers by adding large amounts of sulphites to ground beef, sausages and other processed meats in order to achieve the perfect “meaty” red color. Sulphites are classified as an allergen with mandatory labeling requirements, however, their use in meat is illegal in the first place. The affected products were pulled from the market and the companies were fined for fraud.
Fresh beef adulterated with sulphur dioxide was found in a Hong Kong market by the Centre of Food Safety. The adulteration of fresh or chilled meat with sulphur dioxide carries hefty penalties of fines and even prison time. Sulphur dioxide is a widely used preservative and antioxidant for foods and beverages that include dried fruits, processed meat products such as sausages, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages. The substance is harmless to healthy persons, however, in subjects with a sulphur dioxide allergy, breathing difficulties and asthma can be induced.
Centre for Food Safety (April 10, 2019). “Fresh beef sample found to contain sulphur dioxide” Centre for Food Safety, The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Accessed April 10, 2019. Retrieved from https://www.cfs.gov.hk/english/press/20190410_7408.html
People like to ask “what is the next melamine?” Of course, this is an impossible question to answer. However, methods of perpetrating food fraud are rarely novel. Even melamine had a history of use in feed products for nitrogen enhancement.
Examples of recurring food fraud in recent history include:
Herbs and spices: High-value commodities, especially when sold in dried, flaked or ground form, have been targets of fraud for ages. Although recent work looking specifically at oregano shed new light on the problems in that particular herb, the group as a whole is long known to be prone to substitution with other plant material and addition of dyes to improve color. Lead chromate and lead oxide have both been used in spices to add color. A recent study in the United States conducted testing on spices recovered from the homes of children diagnosed with lead poisoning and determined that some lead poisoning cases can be attributed to high levels of lead in spices consumed by children.
Milk: Milk has been repeatedly prone to the addition of protein-mimicking compounds such as urea, the addition of other fats such as vegetable oil, and the addition of preservatives such as formaldehyde. Melamine addition to milk discovered in 2008 was not entirely novel. The addition of melamine to artificially enhance the apparent protein content of a product was documented in scientific papers in the 1980s.1
Liquor: Alcoholic beverages are also a high-value target, especially if they are a popular brand. Counterfeit alcohol is a common form of food fraud cited in the Food Fraud Database. Unfortunately, the use of methanol in unregulated liquor production repeatedly results in illnesses and deaths in consumers.
What forms of food fraud will be common in the coming years? Millennials reportedly place value on sustainability, convenience, high protein, and production practices such as organic and “local.” Verifying claims around production practices through long food supply chains is notoriously challenging. Increasing interest by consumers in these types of label claims may increase this type of fraud in the future.
Bisaz, R., and A. Kummer. “Determination of 2, 4, 6-triamino-1, 3, 5-triazine (melamine) in potatoe proteins.” Mitt. Gebiete Lebensm. Hyg 74 (1983): 74-79.
The meat industry has been on alert over the past few days, much of which has been due to Salmonella and Listeria concerns. The following are the Class I recalls that have hit:
JBS Tolleson, Inc. recalls 6,937,195 pounds of raw non-intact beef products over concerns of Salmonella Newport contamination. According to the CDC, there are currently 57 reported cases across 16 states. No deaths have been reported. A traceback investigation involving store receipts and shopper card numbers enabled FSIS to trace the reported illnesses to JBS “as the common supplier of the ground beef products”.
Canteen/Convenco recalled more than 1700 pounds of RTE breaded chicken tenders with BBQ sauce and hot sauce. The products were misbranded, as they may contain milk, and this was not declared on the finished product label. Thus far there have been no reported cases of adverse reactions due to consuming the products.
Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods has recalled more than 18,200 pounds of RTE meat and poultry deli-sliced products over concerns of product adulteration with Listeria monocytogenes. The products were produced and packaged from September 14–October 3, 2018. No confirmed illnesses have been reported to date.
Over the past few days, there have been two more large meat recalls. In both cases, there have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to product consumption.
Golden Gourmet Recall
Golden Gourmet has recalled more than 5,000 pounds of frozen waffle and turkey sausage products over concerns of contamination with Listeria monocytogenes. The issue was uncovered when the company received a letter of notification from US Foods, its supplier, that products had been recalled. The Class I recall involves products that were produced and packaged on December 21, 28, 29 and 30, 2016 and shipped to locations in Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Armour Eckrich Meats Recall
FSIS also announced a Class II recall initiated by Armour Eckrich Meats, LLC over concerns of metal contamination. The company recalled nearly 91,000 pounds of ready-to-eat fully cooked pork, turkey and beef breakfast sausage products that were produced and packaged from April 26 through April 28, 2017 and shipped to distribution centers in Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. Armour Eckrich Meats discovered the problem when it was notified by an FSIS-regulated establishment that pieces of metal were embedded in the sausage product produced by Armour Eckrich.
Last week California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that bans the use of antibiotics in meat production. The legislation, SB-27 Livestock: use of antimicrobial drugs, prohibits the administration of antibiotics in livestock unless ordered by a licensed veterinarian via a prescription or veterinary feed directive. As such, the law bans using drugs to promote weight gain or improve feed efficiency.
Several organizations, including the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), are applauding the legislation. On the NRDC’s blog, senior attorney with the organization’s health program, Avinash Kar, praised the passage of the final bill. “We’ve fought for many years to get the FDA to take genuine action on this issue, but the FDA has basically given the issue lip service and failed to take meaningful action,” wrote Kar.
The legislation, also the most stringent nationwide, goes into effect January 1, 2018. It requires that the Department of Food and Agriculture, in collaboration with the Veterinary Medical Board, the State Department of Health, and other organizations put together antimicrobial stewardship guidelines and best management practices on how to properly use “medically important antimicrobial drugs. The departments would also be required to collect data on the use and sales of these drugs, along with data related to antibiotic resistant bacteria, and livestock management practice data.
Violation in the bill’s provisions will result in a civil penalty of up to $250 for each day the violation occurs, as well as up to $500 in administrative fines for each day the violation occurs.
The use of antibiotics in meat and poultry has been highly controversial for years, as it has been blamed for an increase in antibiotic-resistant infections. In addition, resistant bacteria can be transmitted to humans through the consumption of food. Antibiotic resistance and food safety has been a high priority by the CDC, which estimates that Salmonella and Campylobacter, cause nearly 410,000 antibiotic-resistant infections in the United States annually.
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