Checks on spices as part of a food fraud project in Finland didn’t find any authenticity issues but did uncover Salmonella contamination.

Monitoring was targeted at operators whose batches were found to have been non-compliant in the past. Of 24 spices investigated, 11 received a reprimand for minor labeling and microbial issues, and five products were blocked but no prohibited dyes were found.

Curry, chili, paprika, and turmeric samples were tested for 20 banned food dyes in the lab with a focus on Sudan dyes but were all negative.

One of the rejected spices contained Salmonella and four had high levels of pesticide residues. One of the spices had incorrect labeling.

All five blocked products came from Asian countries, but three had been imported to Finland via another EU member state.

“The use of prohibited dyes is still a common form of food fraud in spice products. In other parts of Europe, dyes that are harmful to health have been discovered even recently, so it is worth continuing the monitoring, even though they were not found in spices in this intensive control,” said Jonna Neffling, product safety manager at Tulli (Finnish Customs).

Wider operation
The operation was part of an anti-food fraud project involving Finnish Customs, the Finnish Food Authority (Ruokavirasto) and municipal food control authorities focused on spices, fresh berries, and meat products.

Import controls for spices looked at banned dyes that are hazardous to health but also covered other non-compliances, checks on fresh berries targeted origin labeling and compliance with marketing standards and controls on meat products checked the origin and combatting African swine fever.

Checks on berries found some of foreign origin were sold as Finnish and customs also detained 80 kilograms of non-compliant meat products.

Paula Kangas, project manager at Finnish Customs, said food consignments to be inspected are selected based on risk analysis of data.

“As for the role of Finnish Customs, the main emphasis is on controls on commercial imports, but during the pilot, we detected a new phenomenon, commercial food imports disguised as personal imports by private individuals. In those cases, food safety measures are completely evaded, which is a major concern for consumer safety,” said Kangas.

The goal is to better tackle food fraud in cross-border traffic so consumers can be confident that imported products are safe and authentic.

“The results of the pilot show that the intensified cooperation between Finnish Customs, the Finnish Food Authority, and municipal food control authorities significantly increases the possibilities to intervene at the right time and efficiently in cases of illegal food consignments from the internal market,” said Satu Virtaranta, of the Finnish Food Authority.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)