Food contaminants hit snack world

By Charlotte Eyre

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: E. coli, Escherichia coli

Pieces of metal may have fallen into sweet treats in the UK
and E. coli is suspected in pizza and beef patties
in the US, reminding snack manufacturers that both physical and
pathogen contaminants can lead to costly recalls.

The news emphasises why processors must always be vigilant, as a range of safety breaches lead to food products being pulled from shelves, as well as negative publicity and a dip in consumer trust. Unwanted metal detected ​Marks & Spencer this week announced the withdrawal of cheesecakes, while United Biscuit pulled a range of biscuit products, after processing managers raised the alarm that pieces of thin metal wire had fallen into the finished products. Marks & Spencer has now withdrawn Belgian chocolate, frozen chocolate and Courvoisier cream cheesecakes from its own stores, after a supplier warned the company about the possible presence of the wire in the biscuit crumb. The company said it has also put up point-of-sale notices in all stores where the product was sold, in order to advise consumers to get rid of the cakes if they've already been purchased. The contaminated United Biscuits chocolate bourbons have an even wider range, as they have already been sold for private label use in supermarkets across the UK, such as Co-op, Aldi, Morrisons, Sainsbury, Somerfield and Tesco. In a statement, the company blamed the possible contamination on a "machine failure", and apologised to all retailers who may have bought the biscuits. "We have launched a full investigation to ensure this problem does not occur in the future," a United Biscuit spokesperson said. "We would also like to apologise to consumers for any inconvenience." Pieces of metal can cause distress and physical injury to consumers if swallowed, especially if the pieces are sharp of jagged. However, detection in the food industry is sometimes difficult, as traditional metal detectors can often not distinguish between 'legitimate' metal, such as clips on the ends of sausages or aluminium tins, and rogue contaminants. E. coli strikes US factories​ Cargill and General Mills last week ordered a recall over fears that the pathogen E. coli had found its way into meat products. Cargill, the largest meat processor in the US, announced Saturday it was recalling about 1m lbs (454,000 kgs) of ground beef because of possible infection with the E. coli 0157:H7, a potentially fatal pathogen that causes diarrhoea and dehydration. The beef had already been used in a number of products sent to retailers, including ground beef patties, lean beef meat and meat loaf. "However, no illnesses have been associated with this product,"​ said John Keating, president of the Cargill Regional Beef division. "We are working closely with the USDA to remove the product from the marketplace." ​It was also feared that the same E. coli strain could have found it's way into pepperoni meat used on pizza made by the companies Totino's and Jeno's, both subsidiaries of General Mills. "The recall affects approximately 414,000 cases of pizza products currently in stores and all similar pizza products in consumers' freezers,"​ General Mills said. "The frozen pizza products were produced in the company's Wellston, Ohio, plant and distributed to retail establishments nationwide." ​However, unlike any Cargill meat products, pizzas were consumed by several individuals later struck down by food poisoning, according to Reuters. The possible E. coli contamination was uncovered by federal authorities who discovered that nine out of a group 21 people suffering from food poisoning had consumed Totino's or Jeno's pizza with pepperoni topping at some point before becoming ill, the news agency said. In the US an estimated 76 million cases of foodborne illnesses occur each year, causing about 325,000 hospitalisations and 5,000 deaths, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics for 2005.

Related topics: Processing & Packaging

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