Food fraud forum: listen on demand by Ellie Gadd
June 3, 2015, 13:13
Filed under: Food and Feed | Tags: ,

A panel of four leading experts, including Michael Walker (consultant referee analyst for the Government Chemist Programme) discuss food adulteration, fraud and prevention during a webinar organised by FoodQualityNews.

The Food Fraud Forum, which was broadcast live on 27 May 2015, is available to listen to on demand.   It also featured Dr John Spink, from Michigan State University, Chris Van Gundy, from Keller and Heckman LLP, and Dr Paul Brereton from the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera).

Michael, who was a subject matter expert for Professor Chris Elliott during the Elliott review into the integrity and assurance of food supply networks, described the Elliott review process and answered questions on definitions of food fraud (misdescription of food for financial gain), and the prevention of food fraud.

The engaging discussion included questions submitted live by listeners and covered a range of topics, including the risks industry faces throughout the supply chain, from those making the ingredients to the retailer selling the final product.

Around 200 people listened in, many with questions posed in quick-fire fashion to the panellists by Joe Whitworth, a French-based journalist with FoodQualityNews who organised and moderated the forum.

The current issues around the cumin recalls (rescinded in Canada) were touched on, as well as trust and traceability in the supply chain. The panellists agreed fraud had been in the supply chain for a long time, and was here to stay, but gave practical suggestions on how to put barriers in the way to – as John Spink put it – “keep the bad guys out of your business”.


Trainee public analysts attend intensive week-long residential course by Ellie Gadd
April 30, 2015, 10:49
Filed under: Food and Feed | Tags: ,

The annual residential training course, organised for trainee public analysts by the Government Chemist programme, was a huge success with fantastic feedback from the delegates.

The course was held at the University of Reading from 20-24 April and featured a mix of lectures, laboratory practical sessions and interactive exercises over an intensive week-long schedule; it included three 12-hour days.

Some of the delegates are studying for the Mastership in Chemical Analysis (MChemA), the statutory qualification required to practice as a public analyst and several sessions were devoted to demystifying the exam process encouraging other delegates to consider taking the qualification.

Lectures were given by public analysts currently in practice and from experts outside the profession, providing a welcomed opportunity for networking.

Niki Georgousi, and Paul Evans watch Emma Downie setting up the microscope

Niki Georgousi, and Paul Evans watch Emma Downie setting up the microscope

Chris Widdrington working on the microscopy practical exercises

Chris Widdrington working on the microscopy practical exercises

The mycology practical session

The mycology practical session

Jane White MChemA demonstrates microscopy technique to Bharathi Reddy

Jane White MChemA demonstrates microscopy technique to Bharathi Reddy

Niki Georgousi makes careful notes of her mycology specimens

Niki Georgousi makes careful notes of her mycology specimens

Jane White MChemA teaching microscopy

Jane White MChemA teaching microscopy

Dr Alex Kersting speaking on the MChemA exam process and RSC topics

Dr Alex Kersting speaking on the MChemA exam process and RSC topics

All delegates gave excellent feedback stating that the course met their expectations to a high degree.

Our thanks go to the speakers and practical session demonstrators for the care and effort they put in to preparing and delivering their material, and to the technical and administrative staff of the University of Reading for their kind assistance in making the course run smoothly.

Tutors on the course are but modestly rewarded for their careful preparation and authoritative delivery yet return year on year, passing on their expertise to the next generation of official control scientists and providing the UK with a bulwark against unsafe and fraudulent food in the supply chain.

The Food Standards Agency was the main sponsor of the event, with Defra and the Analytical Chemistry Trust Fund also providing financial support. The event was organised by the Government Chemist Programme, which is housed within LGC and funded by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills.

Food fear: when allergies can kill by Ellie Gadd
April 1, 2015, 16:00
Filed under: Allergies, EU Regulation/Legislation | Tags: , ,

A fit and healthy 22-year-old girl collapses suddenly after eating a cake and is rushed to hospital. She spends three days in intensive care and five more days in hospital recovering. Poison might have been suspected but there is no investigation for attempted murder. The culprit is caught but walks free from court with just a £7,500 fine.

You may find this shocking, but this was a real UK court case in 2010. The poison: peanuts. The charge: selling falsely labelled food.

In a comment article in the latest issue of Chemistry and Industry magazine (13 March 2015), Michael Walker, Consultant Science Manager for the Government Chemist, and Hazel Gowland, from Allergy Action, discuss this court case as part of a recent review they carried out examining court cases in the UK involving fatalities, personal injury, or criminal non-compliance with food law.

The article outlines the role businesses must play in protecting people with food allergies and the need for tough sanctions if they fail in their duty. They explain the difficulties in detecting the presence of allergenic proteins in foods and why techniques for measuring allergens need to be standardised.

Visit the Chemistry and Industry website to access a copy of the article.

Lack of harmony in chemicals regulation in Europe? by Nick Boley

These posts usually refer to legislation and regulation relating to chemical measurement, and related stories. This one goes in a different direction, and has been prompted by a paper arising from a study carried out by the Swiss Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) the Food Packaging Forum, as reported recently by Chemical Watch.

The study found that 175 chemicals known to be hazardous to health can be found in food packaging in the EU and the US. Some 21 of these have been recognised by the European Chemicals Agency, ECHA, as being substances of very high concern (SVHCs) and six are actually listed in Annex XIV of REACH to be phased out from use, except by specific authorisation for use. Good examples of this are the chemicals diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP) and 4,4’-methylene-dianiline (MDA). Many other chemicals found in food packaging are considered by the Swedish NGO ChemSec to be hazardous to health, including some which are known, or suspected, to be carcinogenic, mutagenic or endocrine disrupting.

What we can take from this, is that there is no specific regulation to prevent the use of these chemicals in materials which can come into contact with food, there is regulation to restrict or prevent their use electronic equipment, textiles and paints. Whilst we would readily support the use of risk assessment over hazard assessment concerning the use of such chemicals, and the risk of these chemicals leaching from packaging into the food we consume is not proven, logic tells us that there must be a greater risk of these substances getting into the bodies by ingesting these chemicals from foods than by exposure to them if they are present, in very low concentrations, in our mobile phones or computers.

This is, perhaps, an extreme example of where chemicals legislation in Europe appears not to be at all joined-up, with different sectors applying different rules and standards, which are sometimes at odds with each other and occasionally defy logic. Regulations covering the same chemical substances emanating from different Directorates-General of the European Commission where logic would dictate a strong degree of harmony do not show such harmony. This is confusing for consumers, and can increase the risk of exposure to harmful chemicals in some cases. Experts are needed to decide which regulation applies to a specific situation, but why can’t we have a more consistent approach to chemicals regulation, that would be easier for consumers, manufacturers and those tasked with implementing them on a national level to understand?

New Commission Regulation on dioxins and PCBs in foodstuffs by Nick Boley
June 4, 2014, 11:30
Filed under: EU Regulation/Legislation, Food and Feed | Tags: , , , , ,

The European Commission has published a new Regulation (589/2014) which lays down methods of sampling and analysis for the control of levels of dioxins, dioxin-like PCBs and non-dioxin-like PCBs in certain foodstuffs. It also repeals the former Regulation, 252/2012.

The new regulation supports Commission Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 which states maximum levels for non-dioxin-like PCBs, dioxins and furans and for the sum of dioxins, furans and dioxin-like PCBs in certain foodstuffs. It provides detailed sampling protocols for foodstuffs suspected of containing dioxins and PCBs, as well as up-to-date analytical methods to be used both for screening and confirmatory analysis of these highly toxic compounds.

The new methodologies take into account recent advances in analytical measurement technology and quality assurance, and stipulates the performance characteristics of any laboratory method to be used for these measurements.


EFSA Report shows most pesticide levels in foods within permitted limits by Nick Boley
May 22, 2014, 07:56
Filed under: EU Information, Food and Feed | Tags: , ,

The results of the EU-wide testing programme for pesticide residues in foods has been published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The results cover the (then) 27 EU Member States plus Norway and Iceland. The report shows that over 79,000 samples of all different types of food were analysed by national authorities and, of these, 97.5% were below the maximum residue levels (MRLs) set for each pesticide, with the figure for the UK being 99 %. The food type with the highest non-compliance rate in the UK was spinach.

The measurement methods used to conduct these surveys are all validated, accredited procedures carried out by expert laboratories. In case of any dispute over pesticide levels in the United Kingdom, the Government Chemist can act as referee under the terms of the Agriculture Act 1970.

New EU Regulation on sampling, performance criteria and methods for toxins by Nick Boley
May 19, 2014, 09:30
Filed under: EU Regulation/Legislation, Food and Feed | Tags: , , ,

The European Commission has published a new regulation, Commission Regulation 519/2014, which amends Regulation (EC) No 401/2006 regarding sampling of large lots, spices and food supplements, performance criteria for T-2, HT-2 toxin and citrinin and screening methods of analysis.

This is a detailed Regulation, which lays down sampling regimes for the determination of mycotoxins in foods and feeds. It also details the method performance characteristics which should apply for some analytical methods used for the determination of mycotoxins in various food and feed matrices, including detailed statistical protocols which should be followed.

This is a substantial Regulation covering important aspects of sampling and analysis, and should be read by all professionals working in this field.