Food Law News - UK - 2002

FSA Press Release (2002/0291), 11 December 2002

CONTAMINANTS - Follow-up survey of chemical contaminants in shop bought soy sauce shows significant improvement

A Food Standards Agency survey published today looking at the levels of the chemicals 3-MCPD and 1,3-DCP in soy sauce on sale in shops has shown a significant improvement since the Agency's previous survey in 2001. Only 6% of the samples taken contained unacceptable levels of 3-MCPD compared with nearly a quarter of the samples tested in 2001.

Steve Wearne, Head of Chemical Contaminants at the Food Standards Agency said: 'This survey was carried out by the Food Standards Agency to see if companies had taken action since we found high levels of 3-MCPD and 1,3-DCP in a significant number of soy sauce products last year. We are pleased that this survey shows that significant progress has been made.

'These results show how important it is that we do these surveys and how they can be a spur to action by manufacturers. It is possible to produce soy sauce without these chemicals being formed at high levels. More and more companies are getting that message. Nevertheless, some manufacturers are still making products with unacceptable levels of contamination.

'There is no immediate risk from 3-MCPD and most people are not affected. You have to eat soy sauce with high levels of 3-MCPD regularly over many years for there to be a health risk, which is why this is an issue for the Chinese and South East Asian community in particular. It is reassuring for these communities that the situation has improved.'

The Agency is taking action to remove from sale the batches of products with unacceptable levels of 3-MCPD and has today issued a Food Hazard Warning to local authorities alerting them to the batches. The chemicals could cause harm if eaten over a long period of time and so the Agency advice to the public is to avoid the affected batches. Full details of the products, including pictures, can be found on the Agency's website

3-MCPD is a chemical formed at low levels in a variety of foods and food ingredients as a result of processing. 3-MCPD can cause cancer in laboratory animals when it is fed to them in large amounts over a lifetime. It is possible that it may have the same effect on people who eat foods containing high levels of it in most of their meals over their lifetime.

1,3-DCP is a derivative of 3-MCPD and is thought to cause cancer in laboratory animals by damaging genes. It is possible but not certain that it would have the same effect on people as laboratory animals and so experts advise that it should not be present in food at any level.

The survey tested 99 different types of soy sauce sold in a variety of retail stores across the UK. Only six samples showed levels of 3-MCPD higher than the European legal limit. Of the six unacceptable samples, four had levels between one and seven times the legal limit. One showed levels 108 times the legal limit, while the sixth had levels almost 2000 times greater. This sixth sample also contained low levels of 1,3-DCP.

The Agency will carry out a further survey next year with local authorities and will encourage them to take appropriate action against any companies that are still not complying with the legal limits.

A regulatory limit of 0.02milligrams/kilograms for 3-MCPD in soy sauce came into force on the 5 April 2002 in all EC countries (European Commission Regulation (EC) NO 466/2001).

This survey was carried out as part of the Food Standards Agency's regular programme of testing foods. The Agency is also carrying out research to identify the origins of 3-MCPD with a view to reducing concentrations to the lowest achievable.

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