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UK food recall – New Zealand update

21 February 2005

UK food recall – New Zealand update

Investigations to date have not identified in New Zealand any of the products affected by a recall in the UK. Investigations are continuing and will do so as long as is required to ascertain if any of the products are in the New Zealand marketplace, although this is still believed to be highly unlikely. IF NZFSA does find that any of these products are in New Zealand, media advisories will be issued immediately. A further advisory will be issued at 10 am tomorrow in any case, even if there is no further information to report.

ORIGINAL NOTICE: A recall of 359 foods in the UK because of contamination by an illegal dye, Sudan 1 is underway. The dye was in a batch of chilli powder used by British company Premier Foods to manufacture a Worcester sauce, which was then used as an ingredient in some batches of a wide range of products.

Jenny Bishop, NZFSA Programme Manager (Technical Standards), says NZFSA believes that few, if any, of these products are in New Zealand.

"However, we have activated our tracing procedures. We are working closely with other food safety authorities, as well as New Zealand Customs and Public Health Units, to determine if any of the products were exported to New Zealand and are on sale here. Although the risk to human health is, as the UK Food Standards Agency statement notes, likely to be very small, we are taking this seriously and all our available resources are being concentrated on determining the situation in New Zealand. We believe that it is unlikely many, if any, of these products from the affected batches are in New Zealand as most appear to be 'own-brand' products made for British supermarket chains."

WHAT ARE SUDAN DYES? Sudan dyes are red dyes that are used for colouring solvents, oils, waxes, petrol, and shoe and floor polishes. There is inconclusive evidence that they might be carcinogenic in some animal species, and are classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as category 3 ('not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans'). Sudan dyes (Sudan I, II, III and IV) are not appropriate as food additives for humans despite the extremely low risk.

WHAT IS THE ISSUE WITH SUDAN DYES IN NEW ZEALAND? In response to international concern that Sudan 1, a red dye not approved as a food colouring or food additive, had been found in chilli powder from India, the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) put in place a monitoring programme for all four Sudan dyes. NZFSA also informed all chilli powder importers of the issue and of those manufacturers the Indian government had determined as being responsible for the contaminated product.

The initial test of 43 chilli powders and products containing chilli powder imported into New Zealand showed that only one had measurable levels of the contaminant. As a result, the importer voluntarily withdrew the product from sale. This product had been imported via Australia, and not directly from India. Australian authorities were also alerted.

The risk, if any, for anyone who has consumed food made with this chilli powder as an ingredient is so small as to be immeasurable, and consumers are advised not to be concerned.

WHAT ASSURANCES ARE THERE THAT IMPORTED CHILLI POWDER IS FREE FROM SUDAN DYES? NZFSA's monitoring programme will continue until it is satisfied that there is no food safety issue from chilli powders imported from India and contaminated with Sudan dyes. NZFSA is also in regular contact with food safety agencies in other countries, and monitors international food safety alerts.

ENDS

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