Understanding and adhering to the laws regarding food contamination are essential for anyone involved in the food industry. Some foods can contain naturally occurring harmful chemicals, albeit at low levels, but minimising such levels is important particularly in products such as honey, dried fruits, peanuts, peanut butter and fish.

Defining contaminants

Food contamination occurs when a substance is added to a food type unintentionally. This may occur in various stages of production, packaging, transport, storage or environment. Although difficult to eradicate completely, every possible step should be taken to ensure that contamination does not occur during any stage in the process.

With the negative impact of food contamination both on the overall quality of the food in question and the risk to human health, measures were put in place across Europe to regulate areas where food is present and also ensure that unsafe food is removed from sale.

EU food contamination legislation

The UK currently adheres to regulation set out by the European Union, how this will be affected by Brexit remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that stipulations will remain in place whatever happens in the future.

Current regulations state that when food is imported, the country of origin is responsible for compliance with EU legislation. Levels of contaminants are required to be kept as low as is reasonably achievable, when following the recommended working practices, controlled both at EU borders and on the market.

Laws state that food items cannot be put on the market, if containing levels of contaminant regarded as unacceptable to public health. Responsibility is also placed on retailers and suppliers to ensure that ingredients can be traced back to source, and those too comply with EU safety requirements. This is known as traceability and particularly prevalent to any food of animal origin, in order to assist in removing unsafe food from the market, and protecting consumers.

What you need to do

  • You should make sure that any food is purchased from a reputable business, remembering that cheaper items aren’t always better.
  • Ask the supplier what they can tell you regarding the origin of their goods, and the testing which has been performed to ensure the product complies with the law.
  • Keep records that show where products of animal origin come from and what particular food it is, this includes products such as fish, honey and meat.
  • Carefully choose which raw materials or ingredients you use, and which cooking or other processes you use, this is because some cooking can create contaminants.
  • Store products in rooms which are dry, ventilated and pest proof.

What happens if you don’t follow the guidance?

Depending on the circumstances, inspectors have a number of powers available to them, which include:

  • Asking you to surrender products voluntarily.
  • Detaining food as they test a sample, if it is deemed to be unsafe or is illegally imported they might seek the destruction of the product at court.
  • Seizing the product and asking a court to order destruction, if this order is granted you will be required to pay the costs of application and destruction of the product.
  • Prosecuting the importer and sometimes the seller of any unsafe products, illegally imported products, or products which are labelled incorrectly.

Products will be seized if they can’t be traced back to the supplier, as they will be assumed to have been illegally imported.