Food agencies in the United Kingdom have advised that slush ice drinks should not be sold to children younger than age 5. 

Food Standards Scotland (FSS) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) issued voluntary industry guidance on glycerol in slush ice drinks after two children fell sick in Scotland in Lanarkshire in 2021 and in Edinburgh in 2022. Both required hospitalization and had symptoms consistent with glycerol intoxication. 

Glycerol is an ingredient in slush ice drinks to prevent the liquid from freezing solid. It is allowed as an additive and there are no limits. Manufacturers can add as much of it as needed to achieve the desired technological function. The level of glycerol in slush ice drinks varies depending on the manufacturer and the product.

Visible warning
The guidance advises that sales of slush ice drinks containing glycerol should be accompanied by a written warning visible at point of sale that states: ‘’Product contains glycerol. Not recommended for children 4 years of age and under.’’

One concern is unlimited refills at theme and activity parks. The FSA said it was aware of a growing number of self-serve options at retail shops, convenience stores, and newsagents. Another problem is that refill offers are often unmonitored. 

Manufacturers are being advised to tell retailers that they should not offer free refill promotions to children younger than 10, to prevent children being from exposed to excessive amounts of glycerol.

An FSA risk assessment found that young children may suffer from headaches and sickness caused by exposure to glycerol. 

At very high levels of exposure – when several products are consumed by a child in a short space of time – glycerol intoxication could cause shock, hypoglycaemia and loss of consciousness. 

Slush ice drinks can contain glycerol as a substitute for sugar to create the slush. The guidance asks businesses to only add glycerol at the minimum quantity technically necessary to achieve this effect. 

Those older than 4 are considered unlikely to suffer ill effects from one slush drink. This is because the effects of glycerol are related to body weight.

Industry action
Adam Hardgrave, FSA head of additives, said while symptoms of intoxication are usually mild, it is important for parents to be aware of the risks – particularly at high levels of consumption. 

“It is likely that there is under-reporting of glycerol intoxication, as parents may attribute nausea and headaches to other factors. We are grateful to those manufacturers who have already taken steps to reduce levels of glycerol, and to those who have already told us they will be adopting our new guidelines,” he said.

One company, Nichols, said it has reformulated Slush Puppie and Starslush products to remove glycerol, as they are predominantly sold in venues popular amongst young children.

The British Soft Drinks Association said members have been working with FSA on the glycerol guidance.

“Our members adhere to all current ingredient legislation including in relation to glycerol, which is authorized as an additive for use in the UK and Europe and has been used for a number of years by manufacturers of slush ice drinks in order to stop the product from freezing. We support this updated FSA communication for the benefit of consumers.”

Food crime assessment
Meanwhile, Food Standards Scotland has launched an online program which allows companies to assess their vulnerabilities to criminality.

The Food Crime Risk Profiling Tool means businesses can assess themselves against a series of statements on topics, such as how they source materials and their supply methods, before being given a report at the end which will highlight areas of good practice as well including guidance on areas they may wish to improve.

Ron McNaughton, head of the Scottish Food Crime and Incidents Unit at FSS, said prevention is the key to winning the battle against food crime.

“Food crime is serious fraud and related criminality in food supply chains. It could include adulteration, substitution or misrepresentation of origin amongst other criminal techniques. So we’ve decided to work with key stakeholders from the food industry and experts who have an interest in tackling fraud in food supply chains to develop an online, food crime risk profiling tool,” he said.

FSS will be holding several free online workshops later this year to help increase authenticity and improve food crime resilience – those who sign up to the tool will receive an invite to the sessions. 

In mid-2022, the FSA also unveiled an online tool to help companies assess their vulnerability to food crime. It was developed by the National Food Crime Unit (NFCU).

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