Issue #75 | And You Thought Pb in Baby Food was Bad! (Nasty Nasty Nasty)... | Live Events for You | Organic Eggs + Forever Chems |
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Three hundred children dead from the nastiest (alleged) fraud I’ve seen in a while 😭
…. and I thought lead in baby food was pretty bad…
Organic eggs found to contain high levels of PFAS forever chemicals (also pretty bad)
Our live events calendar is out now (finally some good news! 😀)
News and Resources Roundup
Food fraud news, incidents and updates
I’ve accidentally created a smorgasbord of chemical contamination stories for you this week, including the nastiest one I have seen in a while. Sorry!
Welcome to Issue 75 of The Rotten Apple where I try to share good news as well as bad. The good news this week is that the US has finally made another step toward its heavy-metals reduction goal for baby foods. Also, a shocking contamination problem with organic eggs was swiftly fixed in Europe (can’t help thinking that the mitigation would have taken about a thousand times longer in the USA).
But, 😪 sadly, the big story this week is that a food safety problem we reported back in September, which had caused the deaths of twenty-eight children, has now been linked to alleged fraud(s) in food/pharmaceutical additives. Up to three hundred deaths across three countries appear to be linked, although investigations have only just begun. That’s three hundred funerals, three hundred grieving families. So awful!
Also in this issue, there’s more info about our upcoming live events. We’re alternating times so every timezone gets a chance to participate. Our first event is an informal online ‘meetup’ on the 16th/17th March. It’s a chance to say ‘hello’ and chat with like-minded professionals in a friendly, supportive environment. Come say hi!
As always we’ve got food safety news and resources for everyone and food fraud news for paying subscribers, plus an 🎧 audio version 🎧 so you can catch up while on the go (find that below the paywall).
Thanks for being here, have a lovely week,
P.S. The work I put into this newsletter is significant. Paid subscriptions help me to deliver the best possible newsletter, keep it ad-free, and pay my lovely assistant, Jane, who helps me sift through thousands of articles from around the globe every week. If you haven’t considered a paid subscription yet, I would love for you to get on board, if only for a month or two!
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Cover image: Natanael Melchor on Unsplash
Say Hello! Live Events for The Rotten Apple
Last year, some of you told me you want live events for our food safety community. (Some also said “Not interested”, and that’s fine too 😊)
Based on the poll results we decided to offer two forms of live events in 2023:
online, informal ‘meet-ups; and
short training sessions.
All subscribers are welcome to attend, but recordings are only for paying subscribers.
Session times will alternate between better-for-Australia-USA and better-for-Europe-Africa-Asia.
🍏 Informal Meet-ups (March, May, July, September, November) 🍏
Informal meet-ups are a chance to meet like-minded professionals in a friendly space. I will open the meet-up with a topic prompt to get us started and moderate the session so everyone gets a chance to speak. Meet-ups won’t be recorded.
First event | March, Thursday 16th March, UTC 21:00 (Friday 17th for Australia and Asia). Click here to convert to your local time | Duration one hour | Topic: The food safety industry in your country – Challenges? Wins? Trends?
I’m predicting 5 to 15 attendees at the meet-up, based on poll responses, so expect an intimate, interactive experience, with cameras on. More details about the March event can be found here.
🍏 Training Sessions (April, June, August, October, December) 🍏
Our online training sessions are 60 minutes long, including question time. All subscribers are welcome. Sessions will be recorded for paying subscribers.
April: What’s new in food fraud programmes (VACCP) in 2023?
June: Basic introduction to HACCP and food safety systems (for complete newbies)
August: Food Safety Culture
October: Pest Control and the Principles of IPM
December: How to market your expertise without looking like a tosser (tactics for LinkedIn and beyond)
To check out the dates and FAQs see the full events calendar on our website
Heavy Metals in US Baby Foods - an Update (Finally!)
The US FDA has been promising action on lead and other heavy metals in baby food for ages. Finally, there has been progress.
The latest actions were prompted after five major baby food brands were named in a damning 2021 report which described alarming levels of heavy metals in their products. A follow-up report, which focussed on three companies that had “failed to assist investigators” (why?!) said that they were making “dangerous” products and displaying a lax approach to heavy metals testing. Another of the companies found themselves in the middle of a recall due to – you guessed it – heavy metals in their baby food.
A US House of Representatives Sub-Committee investigated the issue and concluded that legal limits for heavy metals in baby food in the US are “dangerously high”.
In response, the FDA said they would draft new levels for heavy metals in baby food. They promised the first draft levels would be for arsenic and would be delivered by April 2022 at the earliest, with at least two further years for any rule to be finalised. Draft levels for other heavy metals, like cadmium and mercury, were not going to be drafted until 2024 with implementation after 2026 at the earliest.
The pace is glacial.
Fast forward to last month (January 2023) and the FDA (finally!) published draft levels for one of the heavy metals. The draft arsenic levels they promised for 2022 have not materialised, and they say that this year they will “continue to work with partners… to establish interim reference levels” for arsenic.
Here is the FDA’s press release about their newly published draft guidance levels: https://www.fda.gov/food/environmental-contaminants-food/closer-zero-reducing-childhood-exposure-contaminants-foods
The draft guidance describes proposed ‘action levels’ – which are effectively limits that would prompt enforcement – for the metal lead (Pb) in processed foods intended for babies and young children. The action levels are:
10 parts per billion (ppb) for fruits, vegetables (excluding single-ingredient root vegetables), mixtures (including grain and meat-based mixtures), yoghurts, custards/puddings, and single-ingredient meats;
20 ppb for root vegetables (single ingredient); and
20 ppb for dry infant cereals.
The FDA is careful to say that these levels, which are published in a draft guidance document, “should be viewed only as recommendations.”
You can download the draft guidance from here: https://www.fda.gov/regulatory-information/search-fda-guidance-documents/draft-guidance-industry-action-levels-lead-food-intended-babies-and-young-children
You can submit comments to the FDA before 27th March 2023.
Heavy metals limits are challenging for regulators and for food manufacturers. I’ve discussed the heavy metals problem and the challenges of setting limits in past issues of The Rotten Apple. Find links below:
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Glycol Fraud Leads to Deadly Consequences
Suspected fraud in the supply chains of medicine manufacturers has resulted in hundreds of deaths that are both tragic and preventable.
We first heard about a food safety problem that was possibly linked to children’s medicine in September 2022. At the time, 28 children had died in Ghana, and because they suffered from kidney failure, authorities thought it was perhaps due to an outbreak of pathogenic E. coli, with a link to paracetamol medications. Here’s a link to our report in the September Food Safety News Roundup.
In October, it was confirmed that children’s cough syrups were the cause of the illnesses. Investigators suspected the syrups were contaminated with diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol.
My food fraud spidey-senses began to tingle and, in Issue 60’s food fraud news, I speculated that the contaminants “could be present due to fraudulent adulteration of glycerine, an ingredient in oral liquid medicines”. Dangerous glycols can reportedly be added to glycerine, to ‘bulk it out’ and save money.
More deaths followed and in Issue 73’s food fraud news, we reported that authorities were warning about contamination of the food ingredients propylene glycol, polyethylene glycol, sorbitol, and/or glycerin/glycerol with ethylene glycol and diethylene glycol. Again, I speculated this contamination could be the result of fraudulent adulteration.
This is one of those times where it is NOT good to have a hunch confirmed.
Now, unfortunately, it seems my hunch was correct: food/ingredient fraud could be the cause of the poisonings. Indonesian police have said they uncovered fraudulent marketing of polypropylene glycol. The police said the fraud-affected product’s use in medicines might have caused the deaths of more than 200 children in Indonesia.
Senior police told reporters that a chemical company had misrepresented industrial-grade ethylene glycol and diethylene glycol as pharmaceutical-grade propylene glycol. They also used the company name and branding of a well-known pharmaceutical supplier for the products, presumably without its authorisation. The perpetrators then allegedly supplied the fraudulent ‘Dow Chemical Thailand Pharmaceutical-grade Propylene Glycol’ to local medicine manufacturers, via a distributor.
Ethylene glycol and diethylene glycol are both highly toxic chemicals, used in antifreeze, brake fluid and cooling systems. Propylene glycol is entirely different, in terms of its toxicity. It is safe to ingest, is an approved food additive, and used as a humectant, emulsifier and flavour carrier in foods. In medicines like cough syrups, propylene glycol is used as a carrier or solvent for active ingredients due to its ability to dissolve both water-soluble and oil-soluble compounds.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said that 300 deaths had been linked to cough syrups in Gambia, Uzbekistan and Indonesia. They issued a medical product alert for eight Indonesian products in November. In their alert, the WHO said the products contained unacceptable amounts of either ethylene glycol or diethylene glycol as contaminants. They also warned that the medicines, which were all syrups and all containing paracetamol, may also have been sold in other countries, through authorised or informal channels.
Investigations are ongoing and we don’t yet know for sure if the Gambia and Uzbekistan deaths are directly linked to the activities of the Indonesian chemical company or not.
Is this perhaps a food defence crime?
Because of the high death toll, someone asked me if this could perhaps be an intentional contamination event - an issue of food defence rather than food fraud.
Reminder: food defence crimes are perpetrated to cause deliberate harm to consumers or brands, and the perpetrators want their crimes to be discovered, to frighten people or so they can extort money from companies. Food fraud crimes are motivated by financial gain and the perpetrators do not want their crimes discovered, so they can continue to make money.
The propylene glycol contamination does not bear the hallmarks of a food defence incident. Although the outcome was terribly harmful, I don't think the perpetrators intended such harm.
I suspect the person who decided to use ethylene/diethylene glycol instead of propylene glycol was unaware of the consequences. It's easy to get the chemical names confused, and for a non-chemist, it is hard to believe that one of those chemicals is very toxic while the other is an approved food ingredient: the names sound almost the same. I think the perpetrators were greedy and just wanted to make a profit without anyone noticing. The harm they caused led to them being caught and for that reason they almost certainly regret it.
Fraud in supply chains can lead to unexpected and perhaps unintended deadly consequences. Who would imagine that a shipment marketed as Dow Pharmaceutical-Grade Propylene Glycol could instead turn out to be highly toxic non-pharmaceutical chemical(s), packaged without the authorisation of the Dow company.
Procurement processes, background checking of suppliers and supplier approvals programs are designed to prevent the inadvertent purchase of counterfeit and adulterated ingredients.
If your company uses propylene glycol, glycerine, sorbitol or related ingredients, this chemical adulteration hazard is a new food safety and food fraud hazard to add to your programs.
Update: PFAS Chemicals in Organic Eggs
Further to our recent story about PFAS forever chemicals in the human food chain, researchers in Denmark have discovered PFAS chemicals in organic eggs.
The eggs contained so much of the chemicals that children who eat more than 2.5 eggs per week would consume more than double the tolerable daily intake of PFAS from eggs alone. Conventional (non-organic) eggs checked in the same survey had low concentrations of PFAS.
Investigations showed that the PFAS got into the organic eggs from fishmeal that was fed to the hens. The Danish organic egg industry and the organic feed producers acted quickly and have already agreed to remove the fishmeal in organic feed for egg-laying hens.
A maximum level of PFAS in whole eggs was introduced by the EU on the 1st of January 2023.
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News and Resources
Click the link below for this week’s 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.
What you missed in last week’s issue
· Infant Formula Makers Investigated by the Department of Justice (Jail Time Please!)
· How to Get the Most of Your Subscription - a Quick Tour of The Rotten Apple online
· Listeria in Ice Cream Company Slugged with Massive $$$ Settlement
· Update on PFAS: Fish Contamination Reports are “Misleading”?
Below for paying subscribers: Food fraud news and incident reports, plus an 🎧 audio version 🎧 so you can catch up while on the go
📌 Food Fraud News 📌
More seafood species have been added to the US Seafood Import Monitoring Program. The program is aimed at combatting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and preventing misrepresented seafood from being imported to the USA. Species that will be added to the monitoring program include
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