Food Law News - UK - 2004

FSA Press Release (2004/0516), 2 September 2004

CONTAMINANTS - Agency issues warning on imported pickles and preserved vegetables with high levels of erucic acid

The Food Standards Agency is advising people not to eat a limited number of jars and packets of pickles, sauces and preserved vegetables imported from Bangladesh, China, Pakistan and India, following a survey that showed that these products contained illegally high levels of erucic acid.

Eight out of 71 samples of pickles, sauces and preserved vegetables were found to contain levels of erucic acid exceeding the UK legal limit. These are in addition to several products found to have illegal levels of erucic acid in an earlier survey by Birmingham City Council.

The Food Standards Agency is advising against eating all the products identified as having illegal levels of erucic acid in both surveys. The full list of affected products is available on the FSA web site.

The affected products were found mostly in small food shops and cash and carrys serving local ethnic communities. The products include varieties of preserved chilli beans, mango pickle and minced green chilli paste.

Andrew Wadge, Director of Food Safety at the FSA said: 'The affected products are a small part of the pickles and preserve market aimed primarily at the Chinese and South Asian communities, but it is important that we act to take them off the shelves.

'As well as asking local authorities to act to remove these packets and jars from sale and to ensure similar products sold in their areas don't break the law, we are also talking to the importers of these foods to highlight the concerns about high levels of erucic acid and to identify the source of the problem.'

The FSA survey sampled small shops and cash and carry premises and the FSA has asked local authorities to investigate the distribution of any of the affected products to retail and catering outlets.

Erucic acid is a substance naturally found in some plant-derived oils, primarily in some varieties of mustard seed oil and high erucic acid rapeseed oil. Although there have been no confirmed cases of erucic acid toxicity in humans, high levels of erucic acid have been linked to the formation of fatty deposits in heart muscle in animals.

If you have occasionally eaten any of these products it is highly unlikely that you will have added to your risk of developing heart disease. In addition, some limited animal studies have suggested that any fatty deposits that might have formed around the heart following consumption of high levels of erucic acid, will disappear over time if erucic acid consumption is reduced.

If you have any of these illegal pickles, sauces or preserves you should throw them away.

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