Serious questions have been raised about the efficacy of the testing and certification regimes employed by the food industry after current safeguards failed to prevent the Sudan 1 crisis.
However, it is still not clear whether the problem is a lack of testing or the type of tests used, experts warned.
Although all batches of chilli powder into Europe have had to be tested for Sudan 1 since 2003, there are fears stockpiles of affected product could still be swilling around the food chain.
But as to whether suppliers should rely purely on certificates of analysis stating that products are free of illegal substances, the argument is a circular one, said Leatherhead Food International director of research Dr Bryan Hanley. Technically, said Hanley, suppliers can only produce such a certificate if they have conducted tests, which should be proof enough that products are safe. “However, it is generally agreed that a combination of random sampling and documentation is required. In an ideal world, suppliers would test every consignment.”
What is not clear yet is on what basis supplier Unbar Rothon was able to provide written assurances to Premier Foods about the safety of its powder, as it won’t say what tests it conducted. It is also unlikely to
have had any written assurances from its own suppliers as it bought the powder before certification was required.
East Anglian Food Ingredients, which supplied Unbar Rothon with the powder at the centre of the scare, claimed Unbar did carry out tests in 2003 and found the batch to be free of Sudan 1. However, given that powder supplied to EAFI’s other customers was found to be contaminated in 2003, it is not clear why EAFI did not recall the batch from Unbar at the time.
Officials now aim to establish what testing, if any, took place further up the supply chain.
The source of the contamination is understood to be Volga Spice of Bombay, which supplied Indian exporter Gautam Export with a five-tonne batch. Some of this was supplied to EW Spice in 2002, which in turn supplied EAFI, which had to pay £300,000 to customers in 2003 after supplying contaminated powder.
Elaine Watson