A company has been sentenced in New Zealand for adding sulfites to ground beef.

Food manufacturer and wholesalers Machi, operated by Diversity Foods Limited and based in Auckland, was charged under the Food Act 2014 and fined NZD $10,000 (U.S. $6,700) at Manukau District Court.

Sulfites and sulfur dioxide are food additives that are not permitted to be added to raw meat, poultry and game, raw ground beef, chicken, lamb, pork and venison, and cured or marinated meats. Asthma sufferers have a higher risk of adverse reaction to sulfite and sulfur dioxide. Sulfites can slow down spoilage, extend shelf life, and keep meat looking fresh.

A total weight of 23,445 kilograms of beef steak was sold in one year with an estimated value of NZD $163,000 (U.S. $108,300).

Jenny Bishop, Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) team manager in the food compliance services group, said people may react to sulfites with allergy-like symptoms.

“The prosecution is a reminder of the need for food businesses to ensure their products are safe and suitable for consumption. The public can have confidence that MPI, as the regulator, will investigate when it has evidence of offending and take appropriate action,” she said.

Uncovering problem
Diversity Foods Limited, founded in 2007, pleaded guilty to two charges related to offences between Sept. 30, 2017, and Sept. 26, 2018.

The issue was detected during an evaluation of Machi’s food control plan. A bottle of Dunninghams’ liquid preservative was discovered. A label on the bottle states “this product is to be used with fresh sausages only and not raw meat.”

On Sept. 28, 2018, a food compliance officer investigated the business and sampled two batches of ground beef, also known as fresh steak mince, which were sent for testing for the presence of sulfur dioxide.

Under the Food Act, failure to comply with the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code can result in a fine of up to NZD $20,000 (U.S. $13,300) for an individual and NZD $100,000 (U.S. $66,500) for a corporate body. Operators may also face a potential penalty under the Animal Products Act, including a prison term of up to two years and a fine of NZD $100,000 for an individual and NZD $500,000 (U.S. $332,300) for a corporation.

Sulfur dioxide and sulfites are considered allergens in EU regulation. For prepacked foods, their presence must be indicated on the label where the level exceeds 10 milligrams per kilogram. They are permitted in foods including dried fruits, breakfast sausages and some burger meats.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has banned the use of sulfites on raw fruits and vegetables. Preservatives that contain sulfites are prohibited on meats because they restore the red color, giving meat a false appearance of freshness, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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