Two importers who failed to translate food allergen declarations into English have been fined in New Zealand.

Tokyo Food Company was sentenced on two charges under the Food Act, and Japan Mart 2014 Company was hit with one charge under the same law. Both firms pleaded guilty.

Tokyo Food Company was fined NZ $21,000 (U.S. $12,500), and Japan Mart 2014 Company was told to pay NZ $7,000 (U.S. $4,200).

Both firms were sentenced in Auckland District Court after prosecution by New Zealand Food Safety compliance investigators.

Through studying records, officials found that between Jan. 9, 2020, and Oct. 26, 2021, Tokyo Food Company imported and sold Seasoned Seaweed Salad, also known as Goma Wakame, to various supermarkets.

Labels supplied with their 1-kilogram and 300-gram packages did not comply with the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code because they did not declare the allergen soy. This led to two product recalls. Almost 32,800 1-kilogram packs of Seasoned Seaweed Salad and 7,752 packs of 300-gram Nobu brand Seasoned Seaweed Salad were sold.

Japan Mart 2014 Company imported and sold 96 bags of Calbee brand potato chips between Feb. 2 and June 14, 2021. A public member made a complaint after purchasing a bag and noting that the ingredients list in Japanese included scallops and bonito fish, but this was not translated into English on the label.

Vincent Arbuckle, New Zealand Food Safety deputy director general, said as registered companies, the businesses should have known they needed to declare that the items contained soy sauce or fish products in English so that people with allergies know.

“People should expect to feel confident that all imported food is subject to consistently high safety standards and is fit for purpose. When we find evidence of non-compliance, such as not declaring ingredients that could potentially affect the health of consumers, we will take action, including removing products from shelves, and in serious cases, placing the offending before the courts,” he said.

In August 2023, New Zealand Food Safety strengthened the requirements for food importers. The changes clarify the role and responsibilities of importers when they bring food into the country.

Incident in Wales
Meanwhile, in Wales, the owner of a pub has been prosecuted for not providing allergen information. The sentencing followed an investigation by Caerphilly Council Trading Standards Service, who were alerted to an incident at the Rock Public House in August 2022.

Paul Taylor, proprietor of the Rock Pub and Bed and Breakfast, Tredegar Road, Blackwood in Gwent, refused to provide allergen information to a hypersensitive milk person with a severe allergy.

Trading Standards officers inspected the business and gave Taylor advice, guidance, and a formal warning. Taylor said allergen legislation did not apply to his licensed premises and refused to train staff and comply with food allergen legal requirements.

In November 2022, trading standards officers visited the Rock Public House for a test purchase. When asked for dairy allergen information, Taylor refused to provide it and referred officials to a disclaimer on the menu, which stated: “We are unable to cater to customers with food allergies.”

The 71-year-old entered a written guilty plea at Cwmbran Magistrates Court. He was fined £293 ($356) and ordered to pay the council’s costs of nearly £1,900 ($2,300) and a victim surcharge of £117 ($142).

Philippa Leonard, cabinet member for public protection, said: “Food business operators have a legal obligation to provide clear and accurate allergen information for the foods they serve. It is not a choice; protecting the health, safety, and well-being of those living with food allergies, intolerances, or coeliac disease is fundamental.

“Providing information regarding the presence of 14 allergens listed in law can act as a critical lifeline, preventing illness and even saving lives by empowering consumers with food hypersensitivity to make safe and informed choices.”

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