Inspection, regulation, testing

Pesticides, salmonella and mycotoxins were the three most frequently reported food contaminants worldwide over the last quarter, according to global data collected and analysed by Fera’s HorizonScan. Pesticides (13.5 per cent), salmonella (11.1 per cent) and mycotoxins (7.1 per cent) together accounted for nearly one-third of all global food safety, quality and authenticity issues, the top 10 also including listeria, veterinary drugs and non-permitted food colourings.

From the same analysis, the foods mostly likely to be reported as contaminated include fish, meat and dairy products, with nuts (peanuts and pistachios), wine, animal feed, and cakes, biscuits and pastries making up much of the rest.

Matthew Sharman, head of food quality and safety, at Fera, says: “The wide range of global food contamination events may appear disconcerting, but in one sense they prove that the testing regimes created by individual governments, organisations like the EU and even individual companies are working. By testing we identify food contamination before it enters the food chain. But it’s also clear that inspection, regulation and rigorous testing continue to play a vital role in food safety and security.

“Pesticides are the number one chemical contaminant reported worldwide but if we group contaminants into types, eg microbiological and chemical, it’s actually microbiological contaminants, like salmonella and listeria, which come out on top, accounting for around a quarter of contamination reported.

“Also of interest is the prevalence of mycotoxins, toxic chemicals, which can be highly carcinogenic, produced by the fungal contamination of food. This is a group of contaminants that can thrive in warm, damp conditions, so climate change – with warmer, wetter summers, in particular – suggests that some mycotoxins are likely to become an increasing risk to food.”

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