Limiting trans-fatty acids in the European diet
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the EU and a high intake of trans-fatty acids seriously increases the risk for heart disease – more than any other nutrient on a per calorie basis. Food products with high industrial trans-fatty acid content are available on the market and there are public health gains to be reaped by reducing intake. An EU report published
in December 2015 has carried out a preliminary analysis of the potential effectiveness of possible measures that could be adopted at EU level to reduce consumption of trans-fatty acids. These measures, each result in different potential health benefits but also different potential burden on producers.
The assessment suggests that a legal limit for industrial trans-fatty acid content would be the most effective measure in terms of public health, consumer protection and compatibility with the internal market. The European Commission intends to rapidly launch a public consultation and carry out a fully-fledged impact assessment. This will allow the Commission to take an informed policy decision in the near future.
Two upcoming publications in Food Additives & Contaminants Part A, indicate an increasing interest in the natural occurrence of pyrrolizidine alkaloids in the food chain. Pyrrolizidine alkaloids are naturally produced plant toxins which have been found in approximately 3% of all flowering plants. These compounds (of which there are a large number) are known to be hepatotoxic, carcinogenic and genotoxic after acute and long-term consumption by mammals and therefore are of food safety concern. Many pyrrolizidine alkaloid producing plants are foraged by bees and can therefore be transferred to honey. Also products like herbal teas can be inadvertently contaminated with pyrrolizidine alkaloid producing plants.
Mudge et al., (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19440049.2015.1099743)
from the BC Institute of Technology in Canada have reported a new LC-MS method for quantification of pyrrolizidine alkaloids in North American plants and honey. Levels of pyrrolizidine alkaloid in the honey samples from British Columbia were around 0.2 μg/kg.
Shimshoni et al., (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19440049.2015.1087651) from the Kimron Veterinary Institute in Israel similarly used LC-MS/MS to determine the dehydro pyrrolizidine alkaloids and tropane alkaloids in 70 pre-packed teabags of herbal and non-herbal tea types sold in Israel. Chamomile, peppermint and rooibos teas contained high levels of dehydro pyrrolizidine alkaloids in almost all samples (totals ranged from 20 to 1729 μg/kg). Lower amounts were detected in black and green teas. This survey indicated a contamination by various weed species during harvesting and/or production of teas.
An October 2015 International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) monograph has reviewed the accumulated scientific literature on consumption of processed and red meat.
A Working Group of 22 experts from 10 countries have classified processed meat as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1), based on sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer, and red meat as probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A), based on limited evidence that the consumption of red meat causes cancer in humans and strong mechanistic evidence supporting a carcinogenic effect. The experts concluded that each 50 g portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.
The presence of carcinogens such as N-nitrosamines in cured meat and PAHs in smoked meat have long been known and in our opinion this report may well reactivate research and regulators to re-consider this important topic.
Raw meat venison products (including sausages, steaks and meatballs) have been implicated in an outbreak of E coli O157 PT32 food poisoning in Scotland. So far 10 people have diagnosed with poisoning after consumption of these products which were purchased as raw meat and cooked at home. It is somewhat surprising to have so many cases of poisoning, as the products should not present a risk to health if they are handled and cooked properly. However, these game products should not be eaten rare or medium-rare.
One of the worst cases of poisoning from E coli O157 occurred in Scotland in 1996, when 21 people died after eating contaminated meat supplied by a butcher’s shop in Scotland. Poor food hygiene procedures and deception of food inspectors were identified at the time as being factors responsible for this poisoning incident.
In July 2015 the Institute for Global Food Security in Belfast reported that 25% of samples of dried oregano have been found to contain other ingredients in the latest food fraud. The study found 19 out of 78 samples of the herb contained added ingredients – most commonly olive and myrtle leaves – which made up between 30% and 70% of the product.
This story follows on from a large number of product recalls of cumin which were found to be adulterated with peanuts. A poor harvest of cumin has pushed up the price making it tempting to carry out economic adulteration adding peanut shells to bulk up the product. In a small project conducted in Turkey one cumin sample was found to contain 10% by weight of peanuts using PCR. The results will be published in October 2015 in Gida magazine.
The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) announced on April 17th 2014 a programme of priority testing of lamb dishes from takeaway restaurants across the UK following evidence of ongoing substitution of lamb for cheaper meats.
A review of UK survey data, from July to December 2013, found that 43 out of 145 samples of lamb takeaway meals contained meat other than lamb. In total, 25 of these samples were found to contain only beef. Other meat species identified included chicken and turkey, but no samples were found to contain horse meat. This new survey of 300 samples from takeaway restaurants will begin next month (May 2014).
Almost 12 months on from the original horsemeat scandal which resulted in massive meat product recalls across the EU, new stories are still emerging. In France and Spain in December 2013 arrests were made of those suspected to have sold that used to develop medicines were fraudulently for food.
A European Commission ‘Food Fraud Network’ headed by Mrs Carman Garau is now working actively on a number of areas of concern in food traceability. In the UK Professor Chris Elliot (Queen’s University, Belfast) has undertaken an independent review of into the integrity and assurance of food supply networks and has published an interim report.
The interim report suggests a systems-based approach to tackling food fraud with a number of recommendations for DEFRA.
An importer of cottonseed oil in Taiwan was found to have used copper chlorophyllin, a coloring agent that is not permitted for use in cooking oil, in its olive oil and to have adulterated its higher-end cooking oil with cheaper cottonseed oil. The latest cooking oil scare involves a popular brand that has been a major supplier to restaurants and school kitchens. Some other big brands are also being investigated.
With continued high profile media coverage in the UK of cheap processed beef products being contaminated with horsemeat, comes news that phenylbutazone residues have been found in horses slaughtered in the UK. Between 30 January 2013 and 7 February 2013, of 206 horses slaughtered in the UK, eight tested positive for phenylbutazone of which 6 carcases were exported to France.
Widespread DNA testing (up to 2500 tests) of beef products across the EU for horsemeat, and expanded testing (4000 tests) of horse carcases for phenylbutazone is being proposed by the European Commission with the first results to be published on April 15th 2013.
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland reported on 15 January 2013 that an analysis they carried out into the authenticity, or labelling accuracy, of a number of burger products revealed that some contained horse and pig DNA. Ten out of 27 beefburger products tested positive for horse DNA and 23 (85%) testing positive for pig DNA. In nine of the ten beefburger samples, horse DNA was found at very low levels. However, in one sample horse meat was present at approximately 29% of the total meat content of the burger.