Issue #73 | Career Review Time! | An Emerging Food Safety Issue (PFAS) | Fresh Squid Knowledge Snack | Food Recalls 2022 - the (Not Quite) Global Picture |
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Food Recalls (2002) - The Big Picture
Career Review Time: How to Decide What to do Next
PFAS in Food Packaging - An Emerging Food Safety Issue
News and Resources Roundup (food safety news that doesn’t suck)
Food fraud news, incidents and updates
Hi there, Happy Monday,
Welcome to Issue 73 of The Rotten Apple. January is a time for planning. How are you feeling about your food career right now? Is it time to review? I have just the thing for you, in January’s monthly supplement: How to Decide What to do Next in Your Career.
Also this week, a not-quite-global overview of food recall numbers from 2022. The trends are looking okay(ish). Plus an in-depth look at PFASs. These ‘forever chemicals’ have featured in our food safety news roundup a few times recently which prompted me to consider whether they really are a chemical hazard to be concerned about or if the whole issue is just another ‘chemicals-are-bad’ story in the popular press. Spoiler alert: they do appear to be a legitimate concern for food businesses. Read on to find out what you should be doing about them.
Bad news this week for the USA as Frank Yiannas resigned his senior position at the Food and Drug Administration. He was from a corporate food safety background, rather than being a career bureaucrat and his practical ‘get-things-done’ attitude will no doubt be sorely missed. This news can be found in our weekly food safety news and resources roundup - click the preview in the body of the email to access it.
Fresh squid to eat? Yes, please. Cephalopods might be one animal group that is doing better with climate change. Populations of octopus and squid are booming, so we could all be eating more calamari and octopus soon. In this issue, I share a quick knowledge-boosting video about how to identify the freshness of squid - it’s way less boring than I just made it sound, and definitely worth a watch.
As always, this issue ends with food fraud incidents and food fraud updates behind the paywall. You can check it out - and all the other benefits of a paid subscription - with a free 7-day trial, just click the green button on the paywall to access that offer.
Thank you for being part of our food safety community,
P.S. Need more info about paid subscriptions? Learn more here. Or….
Food Recalls 2022 - The Not-quite-global Picture
Here’s a brief snapshot of trends in the number of food safety recalls from around the world.
USA: In 2022, the number of FDA recall events in the US was low compared to pre-pandemic levels, but recalls for labelling issues have risen and they now account for a quarter of US FDA recall events. USDA (FSIS) recalls are still low compared to pre-pandemic levels and this could be because of a lack of inspection resources.
Canadian food recalls in 2022 were also low compared to pre-pandemic levels, with the total number of recalls in 2022 less than 50% of 2019.
In the United Kingdom, the number of recalls in 2022 was the lowest since 2017. Half of all recalls were allergy related. Australia’s 2022 recall tally was also the lowest since 2017.
For Europe, there were more European Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) notifications in 2022 than in most previous years, but less than in 2021.
Thank you to the RQA Group – a private risk consultancy – who collated these details in a report. I apologise to Asian, African and South American readers for not having your data at the moment.
Career Inspo for Foodies
Have you hit a career ceiling at work? Are you feeling underappreciated, underpaid or just ready for a change of scene? In January’s supplement for paying subscribers, I share a simple (but not easy!) 7-step process to help you decide where to go from here.
The process is custom-made for food professionals, but useful for everyone.
Click the link below to access the supplement (for paying subscribers).
If you haven’t subscribed to this newsletter yet, you should do that now. Free or paid, it’s all good! (But paid is better 😊 because it supports this high-quality, ad-free, independent content)
PFAS in food and packaging – an emerging food safety issue
PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are ‘forever chemicals’ that have been linked to significant human health problems and increased risks of chronic diseases like cancer. PFAS chemicals are present in food, drinking water and food packaging materials.
This month, a new study showed that wild-caught US freshwater fish are much more contaminated with PFAS than was previously thought. Eating just one serving of the fish is as dangerous as drinking heavily contaminated water every day for a month.
PFAS exposure can lead to decreased fertility, developmental delays in children, increased risk of kidney, prostate and testicular cancer, immunological defects and increased risk of obesity (source). The main exposure routes for adults are drinking water and eating food.
For food safety professionals, the presence of PFAS in municipal water supplies, fish and food packaging materials are emerging as food safety hazards that need to be considered in food safety plans.
PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals that have been widely used in a variety of industrial and consumer products since the 1950s. These chemicals are known for their ability to resist heat, water, and oil, which is why they have been used in products such as nonstick cookware, water-repellent clothing, and fast-food wrappers. However, PFAS are also highly persistent in the environment and accumulate in the bodies of animals. Most people worldwide have PFAS in their bodies, with more than 98% of Americans having detectable levels of PFAS in their blood serum.
Among the PFAS family of chemicals, some are more toxic and more able to bioaccumulate than others. Two such ‘toxic’ chemicals are PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonic acid).
Some PFAS have been shown to cause developmental problems, cancer, and other health issues in laboratory animals. Studies in humans have also found associations between PFAS exposure and certain health outcomes, such as high cholesterol, decreased fertility, and immune system effects.
What’s changed lately?
The good news is that some PFAS chemicals are being phased out or have ceased manufacture altogether. Human exposure to the older and most heavily regulated PFAS, PFOA and PFOS, seems to be decreasing, however, exposure to the newer chemical PFNA (perfluorononanoic acid) seems to be increasing, and the health effects from PFNA are perhaps as bad as the ones from the older chemicals. In a survey of the US population, the concentrations of PFNA in blood serum doubled in a recent four year period. Levels of novel PFAS chemicals are also increasing in the blood of European populations (source).
New studies, including one just published about the prevalence of PFAS in fish, are raising alarm bells because higher-than-expected levels of PFAS have been found. Government monitoring of PFAS typically reports much lower levels in food, water and the environment than are being found by other scientists.
Freshwater fish is an emerging concern for PFAS contamination of food. Certain regions and fish types in the USA appear to be heavily contaminated, compared to the results obtained in regular government monitoring surveys (source).
In the US, there have been two new lawsuits filed against food chain businesses in recent months, because of the presence of PFAS in their products. You may have seen these in The Rotten Apple’s January Food Safety News Roundup.
One such lawsuit is against a firm that deliberately creates PFAS chemicals in plastic packaging to make it stronger, using a process caused ‘fluorination’. The other lawsuit is against the owner of an orange juice brand that is marketed as natural, but that contains “hundreds of times” the concentration of PFAS that would be acceptable in drinking water. In Europe, the European Union has classified PFAS as an emerging chemical risk.
Public awareness about the risks of PFAS in food and water is increasing all around the globe and the World Health Organisation (WHO) is currently developing guidelines for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water.
PFAS and Food
PFAS can be found in foods including fish from waters that have been contaminated with PFAS, as well as dairy foods from cows exposed to contaminated feed or water. Food packaging is also an exposure route for PFAS (source).
Freshwater fish are emerging as a particularly risky food with respect to PFAS consumption in most regions globally.
PFAS chemicals can leach from food packaging materials into food, with paper-based packaging being the most risky, especially when the food is held at warm temperatures. PFAS are intentionally added to the grease-proofing agents and coatings used on some paper and paperboard food packages, to impart oil- and moisture-resistant properties. Package types that are most likely to have PFAS are grease-resistant paper, pizza boxes, fast food containers, microwave popcorn bags and sweet wrappers.
The chemicals can be present in the packaging materials at significant levels. For example, researchers reported finding PFOA (one of the bad PFAS) in a microwave popcorn bag paper at concentrations up to 300 micrograms per kilogram.
A significant proportion of these chemicals can migrate into food. In one study, researchers placed food-approved paper into contact with food simulants at 40°C and discovered that at least 5% and up to 100% of perflourocarboxylic acids (PFCAs) – a sub-class of PFAS - migrated from the packages into the food simulant during ten days of storage.
It is not just warm foods that pose a risk. Another study which used microwave popcorn and butter found measurable migration, even during cold storage of the butter. The study’s authors reported that the presence of emulsifiers in food enhances the migration of the chemicals from packaging, and suggest that using food simulants – which do not contain emulsifiers - for safety testing may underestimate the risks.
Rules and Regulations
Most regulations and guidelines internationally use values for just two PFAS chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, because they were used in larger quantities in the past and have been found to be persistent in the environment.
In the US the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established rules for monitoring PFAS in drinking water and some states have regulations covering the use of specific PFAS compounds. A number of US states now prohibit the sale of food packaging which has had PFAS intentionally added. Limits for PFAS in drinking water have been set by some states.
The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has classified some PFAS as "substances of very high concern" and the European Union (EU) has established maximum levels for PFOA and PFOS in food and feed, as well as banning the use of certain PFAS in consumer products, including textiles and leather goods.
In Canada, some PFAS chemicals are regulated as toxic substances and there are maximum acceptable levels in drinking water for PFOA and PFOS. The Japanese government has established a maximum level for PFOA in drinking water and there are regulations governing the use of PFAS in food packaging and textiles. The Vietnamese government is also planning to prohibit the use and production of PFAS in food packaging and textiles. Singapore, The Philippines, Australia and New Zealand have also set limits or guidelines for acceptable levels of PFOA and PFOS in drinking water.
What to do now
For food professionals, PFAS are a concern but an issue that is difficult to manage. There are no easy ways to avoid PFAS chemicals in food and water from areas that have been contaminated. However, if you work in a food business that purchases, utilities or sells packaging materials, water or fish, you should consider how much PFAS are in your supply chain.
Food contact packaging may contain accidental or deliberate quantities of PFAS chemicals. If you purchase packaging you should seek information from your suppliers about the presence of PFAS in their products. If you are a member of the International Association of Food Protection (IAFP) you may find this thread on the IAFP forum useful. It contains links to a list of US state-based regulations for PFAS in food packaging.
Water used in food manufacturing processes may contain PFAS, including potable water from municipal supplies. An independent study of municipal water from 44 locations in the USA found detectable levels in all but one sample, with some city water supplies above ‘advisory’ levels set by the US EPA, of 70 parts per trillion or 70 nanograms per Litre (of PFOA and PFOS). In Asia, 100% of water sampled from The Philippines and Thailand (46 samples) contained detectable levels of PFOA and PFOS. Some areas of Europe have concerning levels of PFAS chemicals in their drinking water too (source).
Seek information from your water supplier or even organise your own tests to ascertain the concentration of PFAS chemicals in your water. Manufacturing processes that result in water impurities being concentrated in the finished product, such as by dehydration, cooking and frying, are more vulnerable to risks from PFAS in the water supply.
Fish can contain high levels of PFAS, with some regions and some species more at risk than others. For example, freshwater fish from the Great Lakes region of the USA have levels 24 percent greater than freshwater fish from other parts of the United States.
Review your food safety plan and consider adding PFAS chemicals to the hazard analysis for at-risk inputs such as water, fish and packaging materials.
In short: 🍏 Consumers and regulators are becoming more aware of the prevalence and dangers of PFAS chemicals 🍏 Lawsuits are occurring in the USA against food industry operators over the presence of PFAS in products and packaging 🍏 The European Union considers PFAS an emerging health risk 🍏PFAS get into food from raw materials sourced from contaminated environments and by migrating from packaging materials that contain intentionally added PFAS 🍏 There is robust scientific evidence about the dangers to human health from PFAS 🍏 Food safety risks posed by PFAS hazards should be considered in food safety plans 🍏
Read more about PFAS in plain English:
News and Resources
Click the link below for a carefully handcrafted selection of food safety news and resources from around the globe. It’s been expertly curated (by me! 😎) and is free from filler, fluff and promotional junk.
Fresh Squid Knowledge Snack
This two-and-a-half-minute video explains how premium eating squid (calamari) are caught, packed and inspected for freshness. My favourite part is where the presenter shows chromatophores on the squid’s skin.
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What you missed in last week’s email
· 7 Types of Food Crime Explained
· Cybersecurity Action List for Food Companies
· Ten Years After Horsegate - a Decade to Celebrate
· Strange and Tasty Authenticity Tech
Below for paying subscribers: Food fraud news, incident reports, and emerging issues, plus 🎧 an audio version 🎧 for busy professionals
📌 Food Fraud News 📌
Weird food fraud of the week
Adulterated or completely fake minced meat was confiscated (267 kg) and sent for testing after consumers complained that it was made from minced cardboard egg cartons. The meat was
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