Herb and spice supply chains can have 'many intermediaries' ©123RF
Herb and spice supply chains can have 'many intermediaries' ©123RF

Canada spice contamination prompts UK guidance

11 July 2016

A guidance document hopes to make buyers of herbs and spices aware of where the risks of contamination and adulteration exist in their supply chains.

At the centre of the guidance is a nine-step flow chart giving “an overview of some of the types of questions that you need to be asking… your supplier if you are buying or using a spice,” said Elizabeth Andoh-Kesson, food policy advisor at the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

The document is a collaboration between BRC, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), the Seasoning and Spice Association (SSA), the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Food Standards Scotland (FSS). It was created “in part due to an issue that was identified towards the end of 2014 with peanut and almond contamination being found in spices” in Canada and the US, said Andoh-Kesson.

In October 2014 the Canadian Food Inspection Agency found undeclared peanut and almond protein during random testing for allergens. Subsequent investigations led to recalls of a number of paprika and cumin products in the US, Canada and across Europe.

The guidance said FSA testing “did not find any evidence of large scale adulteration” in the UK. However, research by the Institute for Global Food Security last year found a quarter of oregano contained other ingredients.

Herbs and spices can have complex and diverse supply chains. They are often grown wild or farmed by subsistence growers and their supply chains have “many intermediaries” the guidance said.

“If you’re not buying a whole product, if you’re buying a ground product, there is unfortunately the potential for that product to be adulterated,” said Andoh-Kesson.

Andoh-Kesson said there was no “particular issue” with herb and spice supply chains, but by understanding the risks buyers are empowered to ask the right questions.

The guidance recommends buyers:

  • Approach suppliers with detailed product specifications and ask for assurance, either through existing certification schemes or targeted auditing.
  • Map supply chains and consider where there are opportunities or incentives for suppliers to adulterate spices in their supply chains.
  • Look for transparency in transportation and be aware of any local history of fraud, safety laws, or corruption where their suppliers are based.
  • Be aware of harvesting seasons, some of which are listed in the guide. Crops can take two or more months from being harvested to reach the UK. Also, local incidents of food fraud can take 12 to 18 months to work their way through the supply chain.

The guidance “will take a little bit of time to bed in,” said Andoh-Kesson, “but the hope is once people start to read it... they can then come back to us and we can do a review and look at any areas that perhaps need further explanation”.

“It is a live document that we’re happy to build on,” she added.

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