Food Allergy: Is improved near-miss reporting needed in the hospitality sector?

With food allergies among the most common chronic diseases in Europe, a new report published in the UK highlights how robust ‘near-miss reporting’ throughout the food industry can recognise trends & potentially prevent serious allergic reactions and fatalities. In it’s first food allergy report, Hospitality Allergen Support UK (HASUK) has called for improved knowledge in the hospitality sector on food allergens and the need to include near-miss reporting as a standard within the food safety management system (FSMS) across the hospitality sector.

Today, 44% of British adults suffer from at least one allergy, a staggering figure which prompted HASUK to undertake a report to first understand how the food and hospitality sectors cater to people with allergies. ‘Near miss incidents may occur due to a lack of confidence & knowledge of how to manage allergen free requests’, said Jacqui McPeake (HASUK). She added,’ There is still a lack of understanding about allergens and messages such as ‘ little won’t do any harm’ and not listening to the customer’s requests are at the heart of most issues’.

‘Don’t dismiss a Near Miss’ is the slogan or message HASUK wants to convey to staff. Along with adopting the slogan of recognising, reporting & reviewing near-miss incidents. A culture of confident transparency will enable staff and supervisors to challenge potential risks and identify new controls. Best practices currently revolve around allergen procedures such as allergen spillage procedures, recording near-misses including robust investigation and root cause(s) with appropriate actions and updates for the wider team to implement going forward.

Factory walkouts and social distancing: How can food businesses protect workers from COVID-19?

The FSAI have said that employees working in food processing plants should continue to follow ‘the highest hygiene standards’, including the use of some additional personal protective equipment and more frequent hand washing. Concerning social distancing, an expression which is now part of our lexicon, all employers are expected to follow the HSE guidelines ‘as far as is reasonably possible/practical’. But Britain and Ireland’s largest union, Unite, has called for more stringent measures from the two government’s. It believes that the two-metre social distancing guideline for food workers on production lines needs to be made mandatory.

‘The lack of the mandatory imposition of the two- metre rule by the government is a problem currently,’ warned Unite officer for the food industry Bev Clarkson. Clarkson stated that a number of measures to make social distancing practically possible on the production line have been proposed. These include slowing the lines down, rotating personnel and putting up persplex screens. Slowing down production is problematic for food makers who are already struggling to keep pace with a surging demand especially for producers of staple foods, ready meals and non perishable foods.

Factories that are entirely dependent on a human workforce as opposed to automatic processing have the greatest challenges to overcome when it comes to social distancing. That said, one of the most effective and cost-efective actions that can be taken is by educating the workforce and making every individual responsible to personally fight coronavirus through maintained social distancing.

Sam Smith of food safety and equipment specialists Klipspringer has said,’ The nature of how coronavirus spreads with airborne droplets requires going above-and-beyond normal safety and hygiene practices. This includes the introduction of masks and physical segregation barriers between works-items that would not necessarily be expected prior to this crisis’. She added,’ This is also implicated by critical PPE items becoming harder to access, with some companies stating that production will stop and staff will walk off site if PPE is not obtained’.

At present it is hard to know just how far-reaching this situation turns out to be, and the implications it will have on production lines and consequent supply of PPE and raw materials.

Can coronavirus be transmitted via imported food?

Novel coronavirus (2019-nCov) has claimed 425 lives in China to date, prompting concerns that food imported to Europe from the Hubei Province and affected regions could be infected.

On the 31st of December 2019, a new strain of coronavirus was reported in Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei Province. Outside of China, there have been 159 confirmed cases across 23 countries in the Western Pacific with one region fatality.

Novel coronavirus, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared a public emergency, has since spread to Europe.Germany has 12 confirmed cases, France has 6 confirmed cases with Russia and the UK having 2 confirmed cases each.

The Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany have looked into transmission of the disease and concluded that there are currently no cases which have shown evidence of humans being infected via consumption of contaminated food products.

Transmission via surfaces which have recently been contaminated with the virus is, however, possible through ‘smear infections’. BMEL stated that, ‘this is only likely to occur during a short period after contamination, due to the relatively low stability of coronaviruses in the environment’.

Due to the relatively low environmental stability of coronaviruses, infection from foods exported from China is therefore, ‘unlikely’. As the viruses are sensitive to heat, the risk of infection can be further reduced by heating foods, the institute further added.

Prompted by consumer concerns, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessments (BfR) has published information regarding known, and potential, coronavirus transmission routes.

Mozzarella fraud laid bare by test

Two-thirds of supermarket pizzas, restaurant pizzas labelled as containing ‘buffalo mozzarella’ have been shown to contain mozzarella made wholly or partially from cow’s milk, after a test was developed to distinguish between the two.

Using a mass spectrometry test on the products, scientists at the Quadram Institute in Norwich found a significant number of products ‘containing’ buffalo mozzarella as being mislabelled.

Buffalo milk commands a premium price compared with cow’s milk and is used to make mozzarella cheese. This makes it a target for fraudsters. The analytical test homes in on several distinctive ‘marker’ peptides that due to the amino acid sequence differences, are specifically characteristic of either buffalo or cow.

Professor Kate Kemsley, who led the research, said the test had raised concerns about the prevalence of species mislabelling. ‘ Consumers aren’t the only victims of this type of substitution’. she explained. ‘For most products, buffalo mozzarella is added as discrete pieces, so if it contains milk from mixed animal sources, then the adulteration is likely to have happened earlier in the supply chain’, she concluded.

Irish beef industry sees a catastrophe in a ‘no-deal’ Brexit

As the British House of Commons prepares to vote on the European Union  (EU) withdrawal agreement negotiated by the UK Prime Minister Theresa May, the Irish beef sector has been warning that a no-deal Brexit would cause chaos and dramatically undermine Ireland’s beef exports.

‘Ireland exports 90% of its beef and half of all beef exports go to the UK market. A no-deal Brexit would lead to WTO (World Trade Organisation) tariffs and most probably a very negative movement in exchange rates, so that Irish beef exports to the UK would suddenly be economically unsustainable’, Eddie Punch, general secretary of the Irish Cattle & Sheep Farmers Association (ICSA) stated.

Punch further explained that there was insufficient time to find new international markets at viable prices to replace Ireland’s UK trade and added: ‘ The only solution to avoiding a catastrophe in the short term is to get agreement on some form of emergency intervention buying.’

The Irish Farmers Association (IFA) has warned that Irish beef prices have already been falling-now at €0.25 cents/kg below the same period last year. ‘The consensus is that we need an agreement on the May package or alternatively that Article 50 is extended in order to avoid immediate chaos’, Punch concluded.

Food Fraud Update: OPSON VII operation focuses on tuna.

On the 25th of April 2018, Europol/Interpol published the results of the OPSON VII operation in which the EU Food Fraud Network in particular contributed a large amount of data in order to detect up to 51 tonnes of tuna fish intended for canning which was falsely and fraudulently intended to be sold as ‘fresh tuna’.

The tuna in question had been illegally treated with substances that enhance the colour pigmentation leading to a ‘misleading impression’ of it’s freshness. This can represent a serious risk to public health, taking into account that the modification of the initial colour can mask spoilage allowing the development of biogenic amines (histamine) responsible for the so called ‘Scombroid Syndrome’ in humans.

The Justice, Police and Customs Departments of 11 EU countries that include the UK, Ireland, Norway, Sweden and France worked closely with food experts and mobilised units to investigate and ensure the success of this operation. Reports stated that the findings were ‘just the tip of the ice-berg’ and that food passed off as fresh and not authentic is rife throughout the industry.

Finding out that many protein bars have more fat & sugar than a doughnut could tarnish their health halo.

Protein bars are often marketed as a healthy alternative to sugary and fatty snacks, these bars have become a popular choice for hardcore gym goers, health conscious individuals and now anyone who wants a ‘grab and go snack’. Check

Andy Brownsell, Protectivity made the following comment in late 2017, ‘ Our team have conducted comprehensive research that revealed many of the ‘healthy protein bars’ found out in retail actually have more saturated fat and sugar than people originally thought. Over a third that were tested had more saturated fat than a regular doughnut!’

The research compiled and circulated by Andy and his team and others have also revealed that while protein bars are often associated with the clean eating trend, some have artificial sugars and colour’s along with the alarmingly high amounts of fat and sugar already alluded to.

Food for thought.

Plastic fibres found in tap water around the globe.

Recent tests show that billions of people globally are drinking water contaminated by plastic particles with 83% of samples found to be polluted!

The US had the largest contamination rate, at 94%, with plastic fibres found in tap water sampled at sites including Congress buildings, Trump Tower, etc. European nations including the UK, Germany and France had the lowest contamination rate, but this was still at a frighteningly high level of 72%.

A separate small study conducted in the Rep of Ireland which was released in June 2017 also found microplastic contamination in a handful of tap water and well water samples.                 Dr. Anne Marie Mahon (Galway/Mayo Institute of Technology) conducted the research and said ,” There are two principal concerns, (1) very small plastic particles which have a chemical composition and also (2) the pathogens that microplastics can harbour.”

She added,” Microplastics can attract bacteria found in sewerage-downstream of wastewater treatment plants. Also, microplastics are known to contain and absorb toxic chemicals with research on wild animals showing these can be released in the body. This will be the same for human beings and we need to act fast on this alarming situation.”

The World is running out of vanilla, thanks to climate change and crime.

A combination of climate change, crime and market speculation has driven the price of vanilla to record highs, simultaneously damaging the quality of natural vanilla pods. Ahead of harvest season in the southern hemisphere, and summer in the northern hemisphere, the almost default ice cream flavour choice may not be as ubiquitous as usual.

Vanilla is found in everything from ice cream to bourbon, but most of the World’s vanilla comes from one place, the island of Madagascar. (80% of the world’s vanilla) The uncertainty over this year’s harvest, set to start this month, has sent vanilla prices soaring. Vanilla prices have nearly doubled in the last year, and quadrupled in the last four years. DanWatch, a Danish investigative group, uncovered child labour and pitiful wages on Madagascar’s vanilla plantations. The price increase has also attracted crime, with armed robbers ripping vines out of the ground.’ The 2017 Madagascar crop could very well be the worst quality crop delivered to the market in decades’ a vanilla distributor warned in May.

Eating Burnt toast ‘may increase cancer risk’

Eating certain foods that have been cooked at high temperatures could be linked to cancer, according to Irish health officials. The danger foods include chips, toast, biscuits, crackers, crisps, breakfast cereals (except porridge), coffee, cooked pizza bases & cereal based baby foods.

When cooking at high temperatures (above 120 Degrees Celsius) a chemical compound forms called acrylamide and studies have shown that high levels of it can cause neurological damage and cancer. Acrylamide forms from the chemical reaction between some sugars and the amino acid asparagine, but the reaction is less likely when food is boiled, steamed or microwaved.

The Irish Food Safety Authority have said that people should only fry, roast, bake or toast starchy food until it is a golden yellow colour. A Senior policy advisor has said ‘,We’re not asking people to cut out certain foods. This is about reducing your overall lifetime risk through very simple steps.’