Food products under study after UK health alert - 21/2/2005

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From the Times of Malta

Food products under study after UK health alert
No cause for alarm as situation is under control - MSA
Ariadne Massa

The Department of Public Health is investigating a number of suspicious food products containing chilli after the UK decided to withdraw over 350 items containing an illegal cancer-causing dye.

Batches of Walkers Worcester sauce crisps, certain flavours of Pot Noodle and McDonald's low-fat Caesar dressing are among the latest products withdrawn from sale in Britain amid concerns that they may contain Sudan 1, a carcinogenic dye, illegally added to chilli powder, according to The Sunday Times of London.

Some of these brands are available in Malta but according to Martin Seychell, Malta Standards Authority's head of the foodstuffs chemicals and cosmetics directorate, there is no cause for alarm because the situation is under control.

Mr Seychell explained that being part of the EU meant that Malta, together with the other EU member states, was immediately alerted to the fact that Sudan 1 was being used illegally to colour chilli products imported from the Far East.

"The minute Malta received this alert, the department started its own monitoring on potentially suspicious products containing chilli, especially sauces. For us this was a high priority and we stepped up our control on this substance," he explained.

"If any product is found to contain this dye then it will be instantly withdrawn, so people can put their minds at rest," Mr Seychell insisted.

The fact that all the other member states were looking for the same toxic substance - Sudan dyes are used for colouring solvents, oils, waxes, petrol and shoe and floor polishes - meant it was now easier to trace a problem and share expertise and resources.

"Border control points are all coordinated, which is extremely helpful when it comes to trace the importation of certain products. Britain had to withdraw so many products because they import a lot of stuff from the Far East. In the latest alert, Malta was not mentioned in the list of exports of potentially suspicious products from the UK," Mr Seychell added.

Malta is also ensuring that any foodstuffs imported, from the Far East especially, had the necessary certification to ascertain they did not contain the dye.

The EU prohibits the use of Sudan 1 as a dye in foodstuffs due to a strong suspicion that it can cause cancer. Laboratory tests have shown it to cause cancerous liver tumours in mice, rats and rabbits.

Mr Seychell said that if members of the public feared they had consumed something containing Sudan 1 they need not panic because the fact that it was suspected to be a carcinogenic dye did not mean such consumers would develop cancer.

"Putting things into perspective, you would have to consume large amounts of Sudan 1 for anything to happen and the dye is not used in large quantities in foodstuffs in the first place - the risk is minimal," he said.

The facts on Sudan 1
What is Sudan 1?
Sudan 1 is a red dye that is used for colouring solvents, oils, waxes, petrol and shoe and floor polishes. It is not allowed to be added to food in the EU. However, inadvertent contamination of some food products has been uncovered in the UK.

What is the health risk of Sudan 1?
Sudan 1 could contribute to an increased risk of cancer and it is not possible to identify a safe level or to quantify the risk. However, at the levels present in these food products, the risk is likely to be very small.

If I have eaten an affected product, has my health been damaged?
There is no risk of immediate illness. If you have eaten these products, the risk is likely to be very small and not eating them any more is a sensible thing to do.

Being exposed to a substance that could contribute to the development of cancer does not necessarily mean you will develop cancer. There are many causes of cancer, including lifestyle and environment.

If the risk is very small why remove the foods?
Sudan 1 is thought to contribute to cancer and consumers should not be exposed to it unnecessarily. Experts advise that exposure should be as low as practical. Sudan 1 is illegal in foods.

What measures are in place to stop this happening again?
All dried and crushed or ground chilli coming into any EU member state must be accompanied by a certificate showing they have been tested and found to be free of Sudan 1. Any consignment that does not have a certificate is detained for sampling and analysis. Random sampling is also undertaken both at ports and by local authorities. All consignments found to contain Sudan 1 must be destroyed.

These facts have been compiled by the Food Standards Agency.

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