Risk tool from Commission detects aflatoxin in food supply chain

By Lindsey Partos

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food safety, European union

European food industry must continue its crack down on food safety
as the European Commission identifies six food alerts in just seven
days.

Aflatoxins, mycotoxins and salmonella dogged European food supplies last week, according to data from Europe's Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF). RASFF, a Europe-wide tool to minimise risk to the food chain, reported five food alert notifications from member states last week. Alert notifications, sent by member states to the Commission, are triggered when a food, or feed, presenting a serious risk to the consumer is available on the market. Last week, after an official control of the market, the Czech Republic notified the Commission that it had detected aflatoxins in ground brazil nuts from Bolivia. Aflatoxins are highly toxic substances naturally formed by the fungus Aspergillus flavus​ on foodstuffs, particularly nuts and dried fruit grown in warm humid conditions. They have been shown to be carcinogenic in animals, and aflatoxin B1, the most toxic, is classified as both a human carcinogen and mutagenic. Aflatoxins is an issue that has garnered increasing attention in recent years. Last year the European Commission asked the European food safety authority to examine the possibility of a potential increase in consumers' health risks if higher levels of aflatoxins were to be permitted for almonds, hazelnuts and pistachios. EFSA's scientific experts pointed out that it is essential to keep aflatoxin exposure from food sources as low as reasonably achievable by reducing exposure from the sources that are major contributors to total dietary exposure to aflatoxins. Various studies of good practices that may control contamination before and after harvest have been conducted in conjunction with farmers. Researchers have pushed forward the concept of a contamination risk analysis system, based on the 'from farm to fork' concept, at every stage of the production chain. Further alerts reported by RASFF last week reveal Romania detected the presence of the mycotoxin deoxynivalenol in corn flakes from Poland. Mycotoxins in food are produced by fungal contaminants and can be genotoxic carcinogens. Since ancient times these substances, produced by moulds that have contaminated and grown on foods, have caused sickness. But they rest a modern day problem that the food industry must tackle on a daily basis. RASFF also reported on the presence of the prohibited substance nitrofuran (metabolite) nitrofurazone in honey dispatched from Hungary and detected by an official control in Lativa. Further, salmonella Bredeney was detected (presence in 2/5 samples /25g) in ground black pepper from the Slovak Republic. In addition to alerts, the RASFF receives information notifications concerning a food, or feed, placed on the market for which a risk has been identified, but for which the other members of the network do not have to take immediate action, because the product has not reached their market, or is no longer present on their market, or because the nature of the risk does not require any immediate action. Last week 18 information notifications were recorded by RASFF and include: Listeria monocytogenes in skinned juniper-smoked trout fillets from Turkey; a 'too high content' of sweetener E952 - cyclamate in raspberry flavour instant drinking powder; red kidney bans 'infested with moulds'; and several notifications from Austria following the discovery of sharp fragments in mineral crystals for vitalising drinking water from Austria. Each year the RASFF publishes a round-up of the year's alerts. In 2006 the Commission said that tougher measures against illegal dyes and a more harmonised criteria for detecting pathogens had led to a 5 per cent drop in EU food safety alerts. EU national regulators sent 6,840 notifications across the bloc of food and feeds found to be unsafe during 2006, a 5 per cent drop compared to 2005, according to an annual report on how the system is working. EU health commissioner Markos Kyprianou claimed at the time that the statistics show border controls are working effectively to prevent unsafe food products from entering the EU's borders. "Europe's Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed plays a central role in ensuring a high level of food safety for EU citizens,"​ he said. "It allows us to stop food safety crises before they begin, and identify problems at an early stage, thereby minimising potential health threats."

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