UK – The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has released the results of a targeted surveillance sampling program conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic, shedding light on food safety compliance and authenticity in the face of challenges posed by the global food supply chain disruptions.

The program concentrated on six commodity groups with suspected authenticity or safety issues that arose due to the pandemic’s impacts on the food system.

The FSA, in collaboration with partner laboratories, conducted investigations in areas such as Mince and Processed Meat Composition and Speciation; Fish and Fish Product Speciation; Spice and Herb Authenticity; Basmati Rice and Durum Wheat Authenticity; Undeclared Milk; Undeclared Gluten.

A total of 1,010 samples were meticulously collected from national supermarkets, independent retailers, and e-commerce vendors across England and Wales in 2020.

The sampling strategy targeted products and Food Business Operators (FBOs) considered to be of the highest risk.

These samples underwent comprehensive analysis to ascertain their authenticity, check for adulteration, and identify any contamination. Impressively, 82 percent (829) of the samples were found to be compliant.

Noncompliance criteria

Samples underwent rigorous evaluation, with noncompliance determined by several key criteria. For meat and fish samples, noncompliance was marked by the presence of DNA from species not disclosed on the label, with a stringent 1 percent threshold applied to meat samples.

In the case of meat products, failure to provide a qualitative meat declaration, along with issues such as low meat content, excessive fat, or labeling irregularities, led to noncompliance classification.

Herbs and spices underwent scrutiny for signs of adulteration, including the inclusion of extraneous materials like damaged plant parts, dirt, or foreign substances.

Basmati rice samples were deemed noncompliant if they contained non-basmati rice varieties or fell short of meeting the minimum 97 percent requirement for the indicated variety.

Additionally, dairy-free products faced noncompliance designation if they contained undeclared milk protein. These stringent criteria formed the basis for categorizing samples and assessing their adherence to regulatory standards.

Business size impact

An interesting trend emerged in the compliance data. Large Food Business Operators (FBOs) exhibited a higher compliance rate at 92.8 percent compared to smaller businesses.

However, the online market presented challenges, with one-third of samples purchased online failing to meet regulatory standards.

In contrast, fewer than one in five samples from smaller retailers and fewer than one in eight from large FBOs were reported as unsatisfactory.

Notable findings on meat products

In a noteworthy finding, the surveillance program examined 300 minced and processed meat products for speciation and composition.

Importantly, no horsemeat was detected in any of the samples. This outcome suggests that the food security measures implemented following the 2013 multinational horsemeat food fraud scandal are effectively preventing the undeclared introduction of horsemeat into the food chain.

The findings of this targeted surveillance program provide valuable insights into the state of food safety and authenticity during the challenges posed by the pandemic, underscoring the importance of ongoing vigilance and regulatory compliance in the food industry.

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