The presence of banned colouring methyl yellow in food spices in Belgium, France, Luxembourg and Germany has led to a slate of recalls; although not affecting finished foods for now, the issue is reminiscent of the Sudan Red recalls of 2005.
On April 1 the Belgian food safety authority AFSCA/FAVV said it had been notified that the banned colour had been detected in routine checks made by companies on curry powder imported by a Belgian company from India.
Consequently, the authority decided to recall all contaminated curry, curry pastes, and curry-based spice mixes from the importer. All batches of curry in which the colour has been detected are to be destroyed, and all spice mixes in which curry from the contaminated batches has been used unless they test negative to methyl yellow (below 15 ppb).
Although the methyl yellow issue appears relatively contained and, so far, no finished products have been recalled from shelves, the issue is reminiscent of the Sudan Red recall of 2005, when the carcinogenic dye was detected in a Worcester sauce product produced by UK company Premier Foods.
Because the product is used as an ingredient in a number of branded and retailer own-label products, as well as being sold as bottles of Worcester sauce, the matter led to a massive recall of products from supermarket shelves – the largest ever in the UK.
The incident was particularly difficult to deal with since Sudan Red is an ingredient with a long supply chain that was used in many products, some with a long shelf life.
Methyl yellow recalls
The maximum level of methyl yellow (4-dimethylaminoazobenzene), a potential carcinogen and mutagen, detected in contaminated goods so far is 1600 ppb.
AFSCA has said that consumers who may have eaten contaminated curry are not in danger; it has opted against recalling all manufactured foods in which the spices have been used, on the basis of the level of contamination detected as at 1 April.
However a number of recalls have been made on jars of spice powder already distributed to retail outlets. In the latest announcement, issued yesterday by ISFI Spices, listed five lots of Madras curry powder in which traces of the chemical have been detected. It urges customers not to use the products and to return them to the store where they bought them to be reimbursed.
Delhaize supermarket has also recalled its own-brand Cayenne Pepper; Flavori has opted to recall its Curry Madrs and a number of mixes in which it has been used, for chicken, paella, red curry and fish products; Colruyt has recalled its Topaz curry, and Antarctic II its Cigalou curry.
AFSSA, the French food safety authority, does not list any recalled products on its website.
A spokesperson for AFSCA/FAVV told FoodNavigator.com that the name of the importer has not been publicly released, but it has been communicated to food firms who may have used the contaminated spice.
The reason for the contamination and any lines of investigation have not been disclosed.