Findings from the testing of food products for authenticity, contaminants, and allergens have been published by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

The survey is targeted to areas of potential risk and where sampling is needed to inform FSA policy and science. It took place in October 2022 and included products from a typical food basket, plus a range of other items. A total of 1,215 food samples from 28 different commodity types were tested.   

Food samples were bought from national supermarkets and smaller independent retailers in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, with some purchased online. They were tested for undeclared allergens, contaminants, adulteration, composition, or incorrect labeling.

Samples were analyzed by public analysts, who examined food and feed to check their compliance with relevant laws. They reported 81 percent as satisfactory. The compliance rate for the basket of foods was 86 percent, and 75 percent for surveillance samples. Packaged breads had the lowest compliance rate of the basket of food commodities.

Food samples purchased from small firms were 75 percent compliant, meaning that one in four was unsatisfactory. Samples bought online had a pass rate of 76 percent.

Allergens and authenticity
Undeclared allergens were found in 16 percent of samples tested for allergens, making one in six potentially dangerous to those with food allergies.

Highlighted issues included undeclared allergens in some African spices and prepacked food for direct sale (PPDS). Of 267 food products, 27 percent of African spices tested contained undeclared peanut protein, and 17 out of 47 prepacked foods for direct sale had allergens without the correct labeling.

In one pork sausage sample from a small business, 13 percent of sheep DNA was detected as well as pig, but the ingredients list did not mention sheep-derived ingredients.

Authenticity testing was carried out on 437 samples. Four of 30 oregano samples showed the presence of a leaf other than oregano in proportions ranging from 10 to 25 percent. Three were olive leaves. Insect fragments and a small piece of synthetic fiber were also found. One sample had high lead levels, but there is no set limit for lead in dried oregano.

Four of 36 olive oils did not meet compositional requirements, and another five had labeling irregularities. Ten percent of basmati rice samples were adulterated with non-basmati or no approved basmati varieties in one case. One packaged sliced turkey sample contained chicken DNA not declared on the pack. One sample of tinned pork, not produced in the UK, contained an estimated 1 to 5 percent beef, which was not listed on the label.

Providing data on contaminants
Allergens were detected in three samples of vegan ice cream. A total of 66 “free from” products were tested, and higher than permitted gluten levels were found in one sausage sample. A range of 46 plant-based meat substitutes, such as burgers, sausages, and meat pieces, were checked for the declared protein content, and there was an 87 percent compliance rate. 

Edible insect samples were purchased from online suppliers, and all 40 were satisfactory for the heavy metals tested. Two kelp samples had notable levels of inorganic arsenic. Significant levels of iodine were detected in 55 percent of the 45 marine algae samples. 

Of 89 nutmeg, turmeric, and oregano samples tested for mycotoxins, 9 percent had levels above the regulatory limits. These were mainly ground nutmeg.

Professor Rick Mumford, deputy chief scientific advisor and director of science, research, and evidence at the FSA, said: “This survey is designed to help local authorities target their food safety inspections to use their resources more effectively to protect consumers better.

“We have also made available some funding for local authorities in England and Northern Ireland to sample pre-packaged foods and spice blends for allergens for direct sale following the survey results. We will continue to carry out targeted surveillance programs to identify and find emerging risks within the UK food system to help ensure the safety of consumers.”

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