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Privileged Statement under S37 of the Food Act

Privileged Statement under S37 of the Food Act

1 August 2001

Privileged Statement issued under delegated authority from the Director-General of Agriculture and Forestry pursuant to Section 37 of the Food Act 1981

The Director of Processed Foods and Retail Sale of the New Zealand Food Safety Authority, Jim Sim, today advised the public not to consume any olive-pomace oils purchased before December 2001 because the products are likely to contain high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

PAHs do not present an acute risk to human health but long term exposure to them has been associated with increased levels of cancer.

Tests commissioned by the NZFSA on four brands of imported olive-pomace oil were found to contain up to 100 times the maximum limit allowed by the United Kingdom's Food Standards Agency. That agency introduced a recommended limit of 2 parts per billion last year after tests on 13 olive-pomace oils found they contained high levels of PAHs.

The olive oils tested in New Zealand were imported from Italy and Spain. The brands tested were Vero olive-pomace oil and Verdeoro olive-pomace oil from Italy and Mi Tierra olive-pomace oil and Coopoliva olive-pomace oil from Spain. New Zealand does not have the capacity to test for PAHs in olive-pomace oils so the tests were carried out in the UK.

This warning relates only to olive-pomace oil. Other grades of olive oil are processed differently and are not affected by PAHs. Olive-pomace oil is not produced in New Zealand.

Mr Sim said importers had confirmed that any olive-pomace oil manufactured after the UK standard was introduced in September last year would now comply with that standard and contain less than 2 parts PAHS per billion as recommended. However some oils produced prior to that date may have found their way to New Zealand.

"As a precautionary measure we are recommending that people throw out any leftover olive-pomace oil bought before last December. The leftover oil should not be tipped down the drain. It should be discarded at the local rubbish dump. At this stage we have not been able to ascertain how widely used olive-pomace oil is. However we do know that it is available through selected retail outlets and is available to the catering and restaurant trade. Importers have assured the NZFSA that it is highly unlikely any product containing high levels of PAHs would still be available for sale now in New Zealand," Mr Sim said.

"In light of the results on the four brands of olive-pomace oil, we will be developing an imported food standard on olive-pomace oil to ensure compliance in the future."

Questions and Answers
July 2002

What is olive-pomace oil ?
Olive oil is extracted by first crushing the fruit, then pressing the paste and lastly separating the oil from the liquor. The resulting oil is classed into four possible categories, depending on the processed used to extract and refine the oil:
1. Olive oil is the oil obtained from the fruit of the olive tree (Olea europaea) without having been subjected to manipulation or any unauthorised treatment.
2. Virgin olive oil is the oil obtained from the fruit of the olive tree by mechanical or other physical means under conditions, particularly thermal, which do not lead to alteration of the oil. Virgin olive oil is an oil which is suitable for consumption in the natural state.
3. Refined olive oil is the oil obtained from virgin olive oil, the acid content and/or organoleptic characteristics of which render it unsuitable for human consumption in the natural state, by means of refining methods which do not lead to alternations in the initial glyceridic structure.
4. Refined olive-pomace oil is the oil obtained from "olive pomace" by extraction by means of solvents and made edible by means of refining methods which do not lead to alteration in the initial glyceridic structure."
Olive-pomace oil is produced by refining and processing the olive oil pressings (which may include heating) during which PAHs can be formed.

What are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons?
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a group of compounds that are formed whenever organic matter is burned and PAHs are ubiquitous in the environment which means that food, air, water and soil are all potential routes of exposure.
There is evidence from cell culture and animal testing that certain PAHS are mutagenic and carcinogenic.
Emissions from vehicles, domestic heating, agricultural fires and industrial processes are likely to be important sources of atmospheric PAHs in New Zealand. For non-smokers, food is regarded as the primary route of exposure.
Foods which have been shown to have the highest levels of PAHs include charcoal broiled or smoked meats, leafy vegetables, grains, and fats and oils. The presence of PAHs in leafy vegetables is believed to be due to atmospheric deposition.
PAHs are effective inducers of cancer when applied to the skin of animals but their ability to do the same when ingested is much less. There is little epidemiological evidence for PAHs risk from ingestion. Although the exposure from foods is comparable with cigarette smoking, the difference in route of exposure makes comparisons uncertain. However, a significant amount of inhaled PAHs is removed from the lungs by clearance and swallowing.
Not all PAHs show biological activity and there is often significant variation between isomers. There is evidence from cell culture and animal testing that certain PAHs are mutagenic and carcinogenic. Epidemiological evidence has correlated PAHs exposure from cigarettes and urban air pollution with cancer incidence.
How did the situation come to the New Zealand Food Safety Authority's attention ?
The United Kingdom Food Safety Authority (UK FSA) initially raised the issue in August 2001 and advised of a survey that had identified the presence of PAHs in 13 olive-pomace oil products available in the United Kingdom.
At that point New Zealand officials confirmed that those 13 brands of olive-pomace oil were not available in New Zealand. However they identified 4 other brands that were.
What did you do then?
We commissioned tests of the four brands. Unfortunately this kind of test is not done in New Zealand and the samples had to be sent to the UK for testing. The results were returned recently.

What were the test results of the brands available in New Zealand?
The results of the four products tested were:
Product Benzo(a)pyrene (mcg/kg)* Total PAH (BaP,mcg/kg)
Vero olive-pomace oil
Country of origin: Italy 15.1 24.0

Mi Tierra olive-pomace oil
Country of origin: Spain 78.6 156.9
Verdeoro olive-pomace oil
Country of origin: Italy 5.1 8.8
Coopoliva olive-pomace oil
Country of origin: Spain 97.8 199.7
What should people do with left over olive-pomace oil bought before December 2001?
The NZFSA has been advised by the Ministry for the Environment that the appropriate disposal method in this case is to put it out with the normal household rubbish.
Who should people contact if they are concerned about using this olive-pomace oil?
They should contact the importer or their local public health unit.

Public Health Office & Postal Address Phone & Fax
Auckland District Health Board Public Health
Private Bag 92 605,Symonds Street Auckland
Crown Public Health Christchurch Office
PO Box 1475 Christchurch
Hawkes Bay District Health Board Public Health Unit
PO Box 447 Napier
Mid Central District Health Board Public Health Services Palmertson North
P O Box 2056 Palmerston North
Nelson Marlborough District Health Board Public Health Service - Blenheim Office
PO Box 46 Blenheim
Nelson Marlborough District Health Board Public Health Service - Nelson Office
PO Box 647 Nelson
Northland District Health Board Public Health
PO Box 742 Whangarei
Pacific Health Rotorua Office
Toi Te Ora Public Health,P O Bo

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