Food fraud: Gluten-free BS in Ireland because health and legal concern

Partner Amy is gluten intolerant and has gone through a battery of increasingly valid tests to prove the point.

gluten_free_bison_2It’s a pain to shop for her and make meals, but she tolerates me, so there’s some angelic halo hovering above her poofy hair.

Irish food manufacturer Largo, whose products include Tayto, has admitted it sold crisps containing a high amount of gluten in a packet that was supposed to be gluten-free.

The company has pleaded guilty to breaching food safety regulations – a criminal offence.

Luke Byrne of Herald.ie reports that in May last year, a mother from Arklow, Co Wicklow, bought a 50g packet of O’Donnell’s mature Irish cheese and onion, gluten-free crisps for her 10-year-old son.

However, she noticed he was beginning to suffer a reaction to the crisps when his ears started turning red.

The mother complained to the company and the HSE subsequently brought a case against the food manufacturer.

Judge Grainne Malone said that the case was “a very serious matter” and the court was told the maximum penalty on indictment in the circuit court was a €500,000 fine and/or three years in prison.

However, the judge accepted jurisdiction of the district court in the case.

Giving evidence, HSE environmental health officer Caitriona Sheridan said that, in order for a product to be labelled gluten-free, it was required to have a gluten content of less than 20 parts-per-milligram.

tayto-gluten-freeWhen the crisps that were the subject of the complaint were tested, they were found to have more than 700ppmg.

A second control sample of the product was also taken, which lab tests found had more than 100ppmg of gluten.

Two other complaints were made about the presence of gluten in the gluten-free products. The company decided not to send out two pallets of products, identified as containing the incorrect crisps.

Counsel for the company, Andrew Whelan, told the court the issue was identified as a malfunction in the line.

“My client’s response to this had been ‘hands up’,” he said.

Mr Whelan told the court that Largo, which the court was told has an annual turnover of €90m, had spent €100,000 to remedy the problem and gluten-fee products were now packaged in a “totally segregated” production area.

Shouldn’t this have happened before?

Salmonella positive sprouts sold in Ireland

Seán McCárthaigh of The Times reports that EU inspectors auditing food hygiene practices in Ireland found European regulations were being broken, particularly in relation to seeds and sprouts.

kevin-allen-sproutIn November last year, four official samples of sprouts tested positive for salmonella. However, the batch was placed on the market without waiting for the final analytical results.

The Department of Agriculture said it had increased controls on businesses involved in the production of sprouts.

The European Food Safety Authority has estimated that food of non-animal origin was associated with 10 per cent of outbreaks of E.coli across the EU between 2007 and 2011; 35 per cent of hospitalisations and 46 per cent of deaths.

It linked leafy greens eaten raw as well as bulb and stem vegetables such as tomatoes and melons with salmonella and fresh pods, legumes and grains with E. coli.

The inspectors said the system of official controls in Ireland on food producers was supported by a well-functioning network of adequately staffed and equipped laboratories.

The EU report found that 13 per cent of registered primary producers of non-animal food were inspected last year.

There are 761 registered producers of fruit, vegetables and potatoes in Ireland as well as 88 producers of leafy green vegetables, 30 producers of soft fruit, 17 producers of sprouted seed, 301 producers of potatoes only and 225 others including 80 mushroom producers.

Safer production of fresh produce in Ireland

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has published new guidance to assist growers with the safe production of fresh produce on farms.

ireland-produceThe guidance and its accompanying simplified leaflet outlines the potential risks associated with fresh produce and provides practical advice to growers to reduce this risk and improve food safety. They were developed in conjunction with an expert working group comprising growers, processors, retailers, State bodies and former representatives. Fresh produce (which includes fresh fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, sprouted seeds, edible flowers and herbs) is an integral component of the Irish diet and its popularity and consumption continues to increase. As such, it is important that growers producing fresh produce in Ireland use good agricultural and hygiene practices to reduce risk and improve the safety of fresh produce for all consumers.

The new guidance comes at a time when outbreaks of foodborne illness associated with fresh produce are increasing. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has identified that fresh produce such as leafy greens; bulb and stem vegetables; tomatoes; melons; fresh pods, legumes or grains; sprouted seeds and berries pose the highest risks to consumers. In 2013, frozen berries caused 240 confirmed cases of hepatitis, with a probable 1,075 further cases across 11 European countries, including Ireland. The FSAI’s advice to boil all frozen imported berries before consumption is still in place, as contaminated berries could still be circulating in the food chain.

According to Dr Pamela Byrne, Chief Executive, FSAI anything which comes into contact with fresh produce has the potential to cause contamination and it is vital that growers take the necessary steps to limit contamination of fresh produce in the first instance.

    “A lot of fresh produce is eaten raw such as fruits, vegetables and herbs, so any harmful bugs that may be in the produce will not be removed by cooking. This places a big onus on growers to use good agricultural and hygiene practices to reduce the risk of contamination of fresh produce,” said Dr Byrne.

The guidance makes it clear that anyone producing fresh produce for sale must be registered as a grower with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The guidance goes on to highlight eight key areas which growers should address to help reduce risk and improve food safety, including: 

  • Choose the right site to grow fresh produce
  • Restrict the access of animals, pests and people to that site
  • Use organic fertilisers safely
  • Use pesticides safely
  • Source and use a safe water supply
  • Use good harvesting practices
  • Train staff and provide good staff facilities
  • Put a system of traceability and recall in place

The FSAI acknowledges and thanks the working group* who assisted in developing the guidance document. It was comprised of growers, processors, retailers as well as representatives of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Bord Bia, Teagasc, the EPA and the Irish Farmers Association. The new guidance document and leaflet are available for free download at www.fsai.ie.

Sewage forces Ireland Starbucks to close for a week

Tim O’Brien of The Irish Times reports a Starbucks outlet was among 10 food businesses to receive temporary closure orders during September from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.

starbucks-sewageThe agency ordered the outlet at 21 Great Georges Street in Waterford to close its doors on September 27th. It remained shut for more than a week, reopening on October 5th.

The FSAI declines to give details of why closure orders are served on any outlet, but its chief executive, Dr Pamela Byrne, said they are only issued for serious risks or regular breaches of hygiene regulations.

“Enforcement orders and most especially closure orders and prohibition orders are never served for minor food safety breaches,” she said.

“They are served on food businesses only when a serious risk to consumer health has been identified or where there are a number of ongoing breaches of food legislation and that largely tends to relate to a grave hygiene or operational issue.”

A spokeswoman for Entertainment Enterprises Group, which operates the Starbucks chain in Ireland, said the Waterford closure was a result of contaminated water flowing into the shop.

“The problem was with the main drainage pipes,” she said.

“There was a rupture of the main pipe in the middle of the road outside our store. Water then seeped under the road and pavement into our basement.

“The pipes were repaired and the store is restored to its proper condition. The store reopened yesterday afternoon.”

Seek and ye shall find: STEC in Ireland

The recent paradigm shift in infectious disease diagnosis from culture-based to molecular-based approaches is exemplified in the findings of a national study assessing the detection of verotoxigenic Escherichia coli infections in Ireland. The methodologic changes have been accompanied by a dramatic increase in detections of non-O157 verotoxigenic E. coli serotypes.

wgsChanging diagnostic methods and increased detection of verotoxigenic Escherichia coli, Ireland

Emerg Infect Dis., Volume 22, Number 9, September 2016, DOI: 10.3201/eid2209.160477

T Rice, N Quinn, RD Sleator, B Lucey

http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/22/9/16-0477_article

739 sickened in 2007: Cryptosporidium outbreak cost Ireland €19m

Paul Melia of the Irish Independent reports a Cryptosporidium outbreak that resulted in 120,000 people being forced to boil their water for five months cost €19m, a new study shows.

cryptoThe 2007 outbreak in Galway cost each household €95 and resulted in one in eight hotel and guesthouse bookings being cancelled.

One in five people in the city refuse to drink the tap water today due to concerns about its safety, the study says.

It found that had the water supply to the city and surrounding areas been subjected to an adequate treatment process costing just €1.6m, it would have resulted in an €11 saving for every €1 invested.

The ‘Economic Assessment of the Waterborne Outbreak of Cryptosporidium Hominis in Galway 2007’ study, which was funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), says the outbreak lasted for 158 days and resulted in 242 confirmed cases of cryptosporidiosis, “although it was likely the actual number affected was far higher”.

– There were 242 notified cases of cryptosporidiosis, with another 497 non-reported cases.

– 45,160 households were affected, and around 120,000 people.

– There was an 80pc increase in bottled water consumption during the outbreak, with a spend of €3.5m. Another €400,000 was spent boiling water.

– Hotels and guesthouses were obliged to provide 4.2 litres of water per day to guests, and the hospitality industry bore costs of €50,000 per day.

Cryptosporidium remains a problem across the country, with the latest data showing that 17 water supplies require upgrades to remove the threat.

The report, compiled by researchers at NUI Galway with an official from the HSE, found that households bore costs totalling €3.9m, the hospitality sector another €8m, while the local authorities spent almost €6m.

Use a thermometer: At least 8 sick from E. coli linked to Son of a Bun’ burgers in Ireland

The proprietors of Cork burger restaurant ‘Son of a Bun’ have said that they are ‘devastated’ by the temporary closure order served upon the business last week.

DKANE 05/10/2015 REPRO FREE Proprietors Niall and Amanda O'Regan at the opening of Son of a Bun, Cork’s newest burger restaurant, creating 31 new jobs on the site of the old Crowley’s Music Store on MacCurtain Street.  The newly renovated 4,500 sq ft restaurant can seat 84 people and offers a selection of mouth-watering burgers using only the best Aberdeen Angus beef, sourced locally in Bandon, Co. Cork.  The burger restaurant is also the first one in Ireland to be approved by the HSE to serve burgers pink. Pic Darragh Kane.

The order follows a HSE investigation into an outbreak of E. coli in the city, which has identified eight cases in adults to date. The HSE said all affected are currently well.

“A Cork food business has been identified as a common link between the cases,” the HSE confirmed yesterday.

Son of a Bun owners Niall and Amanda O’Regan said it was an issue in relation to “structural issues” with the premises.

However in a statement the couple also revealed that “four staff have tested positive to carrying bacteria linked with E .coli”.

The closure order was served last Wednesday, June 29 and the restaurant was shut over the weekend.

While a notice on the door of the premises cited “necessary construction works” as the cause of the closure, it did not make any reference to the closure order.

However the restaurant yesterday issued a statement confirming it had received the closure order.

“Following a complaint, Son of A Bun restaurant has been working with the FSAI to ensure the integrity and quality of food safety at the premises in Cork,” the statement read.

barfblog.Stick It InWhen it opened last October, the owners said Son of a Bun was “the only restaurant approved by the HSE to serve burgers cooked pink”.

However a spokesperson for the HSE yesterday said that it does not award approval to restaurants wishing to serve rare or medium-rare burgers.

And did the bureautypes say that back in Oct.? Did they say anything during subsequent inspections?

Son of a Bun opened last September and has proven a huge hit with burger fans in Cork. It became well-known for its ‘pink burgers’, served rare and medium rare at customers’ requests.

It is understood that Son of a Bun will no longer serve the ‘pink’ burgers when the MacCurtain St restaurant reopens.

Color is irrelevant. Use a thermometer and stick it in.

Food fraud: Ireland wants to separate its cheese from Brits

Provenance of processed foods is a significant quality attribute for many consumers and one for which they are willing to pay a price premium. As a consequence, the fraudulent mislabeling or adulteration of high-value foods now occurs on a global scale.

Artisan_cheese_cover_200Regulatory authorities and food businesses are focusing greater efforts in combating food fraud which can have serious ramifications for both revenue and reputation.

A number of provenance verification schemes have been established in other countries with the express purpose of protecting the denomination of quality associated with particular food products. This includes the Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano protected designation of origin status for artisan cheeses in Italy. There is currently no such scheme for artisan or “farmhouse” cheeses produced on the island of Ireland and yet it is desirable to facilitate a system of provenance confirmation which can provide confidence to consumers in the true geographical origin of artisan cheeses branded as produced on the island of Ireland. It is therefore prudent at this point in time to investigate analytical methods that could be applied to provide consumers with the necessary assurance of the claimed island of Ireland origin of such products.

The concentration and relative ratios of key analytes in a food products such as cheese are mainly influenced by animal diet and geographic location. Several reports from other countries or regions have shown that the use of multivariate analysis of analytical data comprising elemental and isotopic ratio values can provide confirmation of claimed geographic provenance. Given that food animals on the island of Ireland are largely fed a grass-based diet and reside within a discrete insular geographical area, there is potential for developing robust fingerprint models that can characterise indigenous farmhouse cheeses.

Ultimately, the development of robust models will require the demonstration of two properties: (a) models should correctly classify the provenance of all island of Ireland-produced artisan cheeses as originating on the island of Ireland, and (b) models should correctly identify that farmhouse cheeses produced outside the island of Ireland are not of island of Ireland provenance. These two objectives are inseparable in the context of the provenance testing desired and must be demonstrated before any such model can be confidently used in practice. Before this juncture is reached the application of analytical methodologies for the purposes of robust fingerprinting must be investigated.

Artisan_cheese_640_90This project was a technology viability study that set out to do just that. The strategy pursued generated a considerable quantity of baseline analytical data on the elemental and isotopic composition of island of Ireland artisanal cheese as well as a selection of artisanal cheeses from Great Britain and mainland Europe. While it was not possible to confirm the geographic provenance of island of Ireland artisanal cheeses with 100% accuracy, nonetheless trends in some of the data, especially the isotope data, suggest the possibility of effective segregation of island of Ireland from mainland European, if not Great Britain, cheeses.

Therefore the analytical methodologies investigated have been scoped out for this purpose and can now be taken forward and applied in more focused investigations involving artisan cheeses and other foods produced on the island of Ireland.

Irish meat wholesaler ‘committed fraud against the industry’

The Irish Times reports a meat wholesaler which was prosecuted for labelling foreign beef as Irish has been told it had committed a fraud against the wider meat industry.

food-fraudKeelaghan Wholesale Meats, of Ashbourne Industrial Estate in Co Meath, was convicted on six charges of breaches to food safety legislation.

They included falsely declaring Irish origin for beef imported from Poland, Lithuania and Germany.

The company was also found guilty of applying false Irish slaughter and cutting plant codes to packaging labels and of having an inadequate traceability plan for the products. It was fined a total of €16,000.

The District Court judge told the firm that this was a very serious matter and constituted a fraud not only on the consumer, but on the entire industry.

In a statement following the court ruling on Friday, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), which had investigated the company in conjunction with Meath County Council, welcomed the decision.

The FSAI said the ruling was important for consumer confidence in the system.

“Today’s ruling by the courts reinforces that breaches of food law which are in place to protect consumers’ health and interests will not be tolerated,” said chief executive Dr Pamela Byrne.

“Food businesses are obliged by law to ensure that the information they provide to their customers is accurate.”

She said the industry must ensure robust traceability systems are in place and carry out audits of suppliers to ensure they have appropriate food safety mechanisms.

8 sick with E. coli O26: Children’s nursery in Ireland closed

The Irish News reports a children’s nursery in Co Down has been closed following an E. coli outbreak.

daycare_children_pictures_242_op_800x533Eight cases of the E. coli O26 infection have been identified in children who attend the nursery.

The Public Health Agency (PHA) is investigating and confirmed that preliminary test results suggest there may be additional cases.

Dr Neil Irvine, consultant in health protection at the PHA, said: “We are working with colleagues in environmental health and staff in the nursery to identify the source of infection and to help prevent transmission to other children.

“As a precautionary measure, the nursery has been closed for a deep clean and samples taken from all children. The children will be excluded from nursery until negative samples are provided.”

Dr Irvine said people should follow some simple rules to help prevent the spread of E. coli, such as washing hands after using the toilet and before eating or preparing food. He said people with vomiting or diarrhoea should remain at home for 48 hours after last symptoms appear.

If it was so bloody simple, then why do so many get sick?