Key industry figures have warned that the recall of more than 400 products laced with illegal dye Sudan 1 is just the “tip of the iceberg”.
As The Grocer went to press, manufacturers and retailers had been scrambling to beat the Food Standards Agency’s deadline of either sounding the alarm bell on affected products or clearing them from shelves.
Any who failed to do so faced unlimited fines through the courts and, in severe cases, personal prosecutions leading to potential imprisonment.
More than 300 producers were estimated to be caught up in the scare, which started after a batch of Worcester sauce made by Premier Foods - used as an ingredient in processed foods - was found to contain Indian-sourced chilli powder with the illegal dye.
And the crisis continued to deepen as it spread not only to the foodservice sector but also to 15 countries which had imported contaminated products. But as recriminations were flying around the trade, senior industry statesmen were already sounding the alarm bell on future crises.
One said: “This stuff has been milling around the trade for years so I very much doubt this will be the end of it. We have to remember that this was only thrown up in the first place because of tests in Italy and that the products being recalled now all relate to the same initial consignment of contaminated chilli powder that came into Britain some three years ago.
“What about the dozens, maybe hundreds, of batches that were imported around the same time, either from the same or from other sources?”
Phil Lynas, managing director of The Grocery Company, which makes Nando’s sauces, agreed.
His company was among those caught up in the recall of more than 200 Indian and Italian sauces in January last year, also due to Sudan 1.
“There will be another Sudan 1 problem within the next six months,” claimed Lynas.
“And we will discover it has regularly been contained in food for decades. I have no doubt about that.”
The scare will have come as no surprise to Ginsters MD Mark Duddridge, who told The Grocer three months ago (November 27, p28) that products containing Sudan 1 were “still believed to be available” following last year’s scare.
Lynas, who claims Nando’s 11-product recall ended up costing The Grocery Company as much as £500,000 as 600,000 jars were hauled off shelves, said the offending chilli powder in his company’s case came from South Africa, further illustrating the chances of affected powder having journeyed into Britain from different parts of the globe.
Although all batches coming into Europe have had to be tested for Sudan 1 since 2003, the FSA has only been able to suggest that companies holding stocks of chilli powder prior to that should carry out their own checks.
It is not known how much stock pre-dating the ban is held or has been used in the food chain.
“Tests are all very well once the stuff gets into Europe, but the British authorities should nip this in the bud at source and tackle the primary suppliers who are suspected of adding the illegal dye in the first place,” added Lynas.
“Companies like ours already spend tens of thousands of pounds checking our products, but we can’t test for everything.”
Simon Mowbray