Market Trends

FSA: Horse meat was biggest incident in our history

07-Jul-2014
Last updated on 07-Jul-2014 at 13:02 GMT2014-07-07T13:02:26Z - By Joe Whitworth+
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The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) said the horse meat incident dominated last year and it is continuing to learn lessons from what it called ‘the biggest incident in its history’.

The agency oversaw more than 50,000 local authority and industry tests for horse in meat products in the UK.

It said that less than 1% of products sampled contained horse meat DNA at levels of 1% or above.

FSA made the comments in its annual report from 1 April 2013 to 31 March 2014 and in an interview with FoodQualityNews.com.

The agency also handled more than 1,500 incidents separate from horse meat last year.

Food authenticity guarantee

While retaining focus on food safety, FSA said it is addressing the consumer detriment that results from food fraud.

“We have established an intelligence hub in response to the recommendation by Professor Pat Troop in her review of the FSA response to the horse meat incident,” it said in the annual report.

“We will develop our approach further in the light of recommendations made by Professor Chris Elliott in his continuing review of assuring the integrity of the food chain.”

Funding was increased to £2.2m, from £1.6m, to support ports and local authority sampling as part of the 2013/14 National Co-ordinated Food Sampling Programme, to help target a greater range of food authenticity issues in the wake of the horse meat incident.

FSA added it was carrying out a study with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to look at the geographic origin of foods claiming to be from the UK.

During the period covered by the Annual Report and Accounts, FSA delivered its functions across the UK at a net cost £113.9m.

Net cost was £93m against available funding of £105m to 31 March 2014.

The £113.9m figure is the cost of the FSA delivering its functions across the UK and includes devolved nations. The £93m amount relates to the Westminster funded part.

Campylobacter focus

Human cases of campylobacteriosis to end of December 2013 are 11% lower than in the same period of 2012 (50,535 cases in 2013 down from 56,875 in 2012); while this change is encouraging, it is too soon to say if it is a trend or a random variation in reporting, said FSA.

A Campylobacter risk management programme has been developed to reduce levels in chicken.

The programme includes projects targeted at all stages of the food chain, said the agency.

“The FSA is working in partnership with the industry and Defra as part of a Joint Working Group on Campylobacter. The working group is developing an action plan which will help identify and implement interventions that will reduce Campylobacter,” a FSA spokesman told this publication.  

“To measure progress on the effectiveness of the risk management programme, a joint government and industry target to reduce Campylobacter in UK produced chickens by 2015 has been set," he said. 

“The FSA is also currently undertaking a UK wide microbiological survey of campylobacter contamination in fresh whole chilled chickens at retail sale.”

Listeria limits

Listeriosis remains the number one cause of death due to foodborne disease in the UK.

The FSA is working with hospitals/care settings and the food manufacturing industry to promote a national agreement on a critical limit for L. monocytogenes in chilled ready-to-eat foods supplied to hospitals and other care settings.

The agency said an agreement between large care providers and industry is a more proportionate and risk based alternative to seeking a change in EU legislation.

Industry agreed standards will be driven by business incentives and other market forces rather than the threat of enforcement, it added.

Outcomes from a consultation are expected in the autumn of 2014, said the spokesman.  

“The FSA is currently determining whether it is appropriate to introduce a lower limit in chilled ready to eat food provided to vulnerable patients in hospitals, care homes and similar care settings.

“If there is support for a new lower limit this will be embedded into FSA’s wider guidance for hospitals, care homes and similar care organisations which will cover all relevant parts of the Food Safety Management System and best practice in relation to food procurement.”

E.coli guidance

Another area of focus is improving E.coli O157 control of cross-contamination guidance.

The spokesman said it was aware of concerns on the practical application of the E.coli O157 guidance, especially for small businesses, and undertook a review to make it more accessible.

“The guidance is now far less prescriptive and provides greater flexibility for businesses on how they may manage food safety risks, subject to their assessment of the particular risks relating to their business and subsequent assessment by the relevant Local Authority,” he said.

“We have also revised the layout of the guidance so that it now follows that commonly used in industry guides. This will make it easier for businesses to follow and distinguish between legal requirements, FSA guidance on compliance, and good practice.”

It involved industry, local authority stakeholders and results from independent research and will be published shortly. 

Related topics: Market Trends, Meat, fish and savoury ingredients, Food safety