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Queen’s University puts over 2400 food scares under the microscope

As the increasing number food scares causes consumers to question the safety of everyday food items, researchers at Queen’s University, Belfast, have completed the first ever analysis of all the food recalls announced in the USA, UK and Ireland over the last decade.

The research, by Dr Antony Potter at Queen’s Centre for Assured and Traceable Foods (ASSET) identified 2 439 food recalls over the past ten years – including the recall of 380 million eggs in the US in 2010 following a Salmonella outbreak at a farm in Iowa, and the 2008 pork recall in Ireland, which affect export markets in 21 countries around the world.

The research will be discussed during The Food Integrity and Traceability Conference taking place at the University 21-24 March. This international event, held in partnership with safefood, will showcase the latest developments in food safety and traceabilty.

Dr Potter said: “The number of food scares and product recalls has increased significantly in the past decade. Until now, however, there has been no international database to measure trends in food recalls.

“Our detailed analysis of recalls in the UK, Ireland and US begins to fill that gap. It outlines how the frequency and severity of recalls has increased over the past ten years, accompanied by significant financial implications for food producers. The 2008 pork recall in Ireland, for example, cost the Irish economy an estimated €125 million.

“Of the product recalls we identified, 68% were detected during routine or spot testing by regulatory bodies, and only 21% were detected by the company in question. Around one fifth (21%) were in the meat industry, 12% in processed foods and 11% in fruit and vegetables.

“Most recalls (56%) resulted from operational mistakes, such as incorrect labelling, the presence of an undeclared ingredient, or contamination during the production process. While biological causes, such as the detection of Listeria, Salmonella and E Coli were also a factor, a significant number of food safety alerts were actually due to food fraud and corruption by suppliers further down the supply chain. This highlights the need for food producers to invest in ensuring the traceability of their products back through the supply chain.”

Dr Potter is one of 40 speakers from more than 20 countries who will address The Food Integrity and Traceability Conference. Professor Chris Elliott from Queen’s School of Biological Sciences organised the conference: “Despite mounting evidence of the increasing levels of food fraud, and growing public demand for safe and authentic food, this is a topic that few in the food industry appear willing to talk about openly for fear of the repercussions for their brand,” he said.

“Food producers, however, should be reassured that major scientific advancements are being made to help detect food contaminants and minimise risks to the food supply chain.”

Source: Queen’s University, Bellfast

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