Two sampling projects have found issues with meat substitution and undeclared allergens despite an overall high level of compliance.

Findings come from targeted surveillance sampling of products in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland for the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

In 2020, the program focused on commodities and hazards where intelligence suggested that the impact of COVID-19 on the global food chain could potentially impact safety or authenticity.

These were mince or ground meat, and processed meat composition and speciation; fish and fish product speciation; spice and herb authenticity; basmati rice and durum wheat authenticity; and undeclared milk and gluten.

Overall, 1,010 samples were analyzed by Official Laboratories for authenticity, adulteration, and contamination, and 829 were compliant.

Meat substitution issues
A total of 300 minced (ground) and processed meat products were tested, and no horse meat was detected. However, 20 percent contained meat species that the consumer would not expect to find, with beef products having the lowest level of contamination and goats having the highest. Four non-compliant fish samples were all sold as haddock but were actually cod.

Speciation non-compliance was found in 62 samples with other meat species to those on the label detected. One non-compliant beef pie sample was 30 percent pork and 70 percent beef. Of 10 goat meat samples, four had no goat DNA, and another three contained significant amounts of other meats. The main substitute ingredient was lamb, but beef and pork were also found.

Of 101 lamb products, 31 were non-compliant. Beef was detected eight times, ranging from 2 to 73 percent, and chicken DNA was identified in seven kebabs ranging from trace amounts to 64 percent. One lamb-ready meal contained a piece of string. Overall, 18 of 66 pork products were non-compliant, with 15 of 35 pork minces having DNA of other meat at levels up to 50 percent.

Four of 375 herb and spice samples had missing or substituted ingredients, and 10 percent were judged to be non-compliant. Of 50 spice mixes tested for aflatoxins, one contained aflatoxin B1 above the maximum limit. Seven samples had foreign bodies such as plastic, stones, and a snail shell. One sample labeled as basil only contained thyme.

Non-basmati rice varieties were detected in three of 40 samples, with levels of adulteration ranging from 9 to 29 percent. Six of the 39 dark chocolate samples had milk protein present.

One-third of 102 samples bought via the Internet did not meet regulatory standards, whereas one-fifth of 527 samples from smaller stores and fewer than one in eight from large retailers were unsatisfactory. 

2021 findings

In 2021, 32 different food commodities were sampled in England and Wales. From 998 samples, 107 were judged to be non-compliant.

Allergen tests were carried out on 208 products, and 28 had the presence of undeclared allergens. Almost half of the soya lattes had milk protein present, and about a quarter of bread products had allergens not declared on the label, in most cases it was soya.

A total of 30 soya lattes were purchased from coffee shops by a person who informed the server they had a dairy and nut allergy. Milk protein was detected in 14 samples, and in 11 cases, the levels found could pose a risk to people with a milk allergy. Peanut protein was detected in five samples of garlic powder with levels ranging from 0.6 to above 20 mg/kg.

Of the 250 spices and cereal products checked for mycotoxins, aflatoxins were above the limits for a chili and two ginger samples. Ochratoxin A was found in two turmeric and three chili samples.

Of 30 cereal products sampled, 16 percent had colors not authorized in the UK for food, so they were non-compliant. All unsatisfactory products were packed in the U.S. and imported to the UK. 

Three of the 20 basmati rice samples were adulterated with either non-basmati rice varieties or basmati rice different from the marked variety. Other findings included a salmon product substituted with trout, oregano with added olive leaves, and goat meat substituted with lamb.  

A vodka sample had methanol nine times greater than the permitted level, and a London gin contained more than five times the allowed amount. A lower alcohol content than declared on the label was found in 15 gin samples. In six samples, the level of alcohol was higher than what was declared. Lower amounts of alcohol compared to the label were found in three vodka samples and higher levels in two tests.

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