03 March 2005 | David Arminas
Purchasers have criticised proposals to increase the testing of food ingredients as unnecessary and likely to drive up supply chain costs.
Their views follow the highly publicised campaign to remove more than 400 products from shelves across the UK after a banned and potentially harmful dye, Sudan-1, was found in food.
Following the scare, the Food Standards Agency, which oversees issues of food safety, said it will review its requirements for tests to see whether they should be enhanced or changed.
"More testing could be in the safety interests of the consumer," said an FSA spokesman.
However, David Townsend, former head of direct and indirect purchasing at prepared food maker Geest, questioned that approach.
"More testing and certifications required by local authorities and the FSA means the makers of food products and retailers can only raise their prices," said Townsend, now head of purchasing for the NHS Thames Valley Procurement Confederation.
In his view, the existing testing regime is rigorous enough and penalties very robust.
"Many retailers rely on first-tier manufacturers of food products to validate their ingredients with their own suppliers. Retailers also have pretty thorough process for buying bulk ingredients. At Geest we had a 16-page specification for chilli powder and it was a sackable offence to buy off contract."
A spokesman for Asda agreed that costs could rise if more processes were required.
"It is possible that more testing would add costs to the products, but it is too early to tell if it is really needed."
He said the current system worked well enough, as illustrated by recent events. "We were contacted by Premier Foods on the Monday PM. On Tuesday morning we had our own list of all our in-stock foods that contained [Worcester] sauce and pulled them off the shelves that day. We had our list of suspected foods before the FSA had published its own."
Townsend said problems could arise with bulk products such as chilli because they have a long shelf life and in bulk form cannot be identified as coming from a particular supplier.
"Contaminated products can sit in warehouses and be added to other non-contaminated batches and sold on through many suppliers until it reaches the final product or is sold in packets."
A spokesman for Premier Foods, which has been at the centre of the recall, told SM that it had no comment on testing and supply chain costs.