3 Biggest Food and Drink Manufacturing Disasters of 2013: What Went Wrong?

Posted by Paul Bywater on Thu, Feb 20, 2014

The UK has been hit by several major food safety compliance scandals this year – here are lessons from three of them.

Every industry experiences its fair share of mistakes and product recalls, but the need for stringent food safety compliance means that breaches are often considered more ‘newsworthy’.

Here are three of the biggest food safety compliance breaches of this year and the lessons each holds for manufacturers.

1. Horsemeat

The horsemeat scandal dominated UK headlines for months, as consumers were suddenly alerted to the fact that beef products had been deliberately adulterated with horsemeat to increase revenues for suppliers to manufacturers and to supermarkets. The independent Elliott review, commissioned after the scandal came to light, reported:

‘The [food] sector is a “soft touch” for criminals who know there is little risk of detection or serious penalty, that the Food Standards Agency is insufficiently robust, and that the industry's audits are inadequate to detect food crime.’

The UK government is expected to tighten food laws as a result of the meat adulteration story, requiring food manufacturers to demonstrate greater levels of food safety compliance including track-and-trace of ingredients.

Is this where the 29% horse in your Tesco burger came from?

2. Tumbled chicken

A number of British supermarkets were found to be selling frozen chicken breasts containing 20% water by mass. Cheap imported chicken is ‘tumbled’ in cement-like mixers to absorb water and other additives to add additional bulk and weight to the meat.

The legality of tumbling has yet to be established, but many commentators are questioning the morality of charging consumers 65p per kilo for water. Formal guidance from the Food Standards Agency warns:

‘It is illegal in the EU to reprocess frozen chicken preparations unless they are cooked or being made into composite products.’

With the practice of tumbling under investigation, it shows all food manufacturers (whether they engage in the activity or not) will need to be able to demonstrate food safety compliance and traceability clearly. This will mean:

  • Keeping accurate records of supplies and provenance.
  • Maintaining full details of any processes applied to meat and foodstuffs by the manufacturer.
  • Documenting steps taken to maintain food safety compliance throughout the manufacturing process.

3. Chutney poisons 400 people

A seemingly innocuous street festival in Newcastle ended in disaster after 413 people were poisoned by curry leaves used in a chutney. 29 of those people affected were also found to have contracted salmonella – 25 of which were a previously unknown strain of the illness.

Dr Kirsty Foster who investigated the outbreak said, "This was one of the largest outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness associated with herbs or spices in the country. In addition, it was the first time one of the strains of salmonella was detected in the UK.”

The problem seems to have been caused by incorrectly cooked curry leaves which were sheltering a number of harmful bacteria.

To avoid similar situations in future food manufacturers need to:

  • Maintain strict recipe controls that demonstrate food safety compliance.
  • Create a manufacturing workflow that accounts for these rules.
  • Increase automation to prevent manual errors creeping into manufacturing processes and records.
  • Perform regular food tests and document the results of each.

Organiser reveals cause of Street Spice food poisoning

To do list:

In order to avoid committing similar food safety compliance breaches, manufacturers must:

  • Implement auditable and accurate traceability systems to document food origin.
  • Enforce strict recipe controls to ensure food is produced correctly.
  • Maintain accurate food production records for use in the event of an FSA enquiry.

To find out more about food safety compliance and preparing for industry challenges next year, download our free eGuide: Top 5 food and drink manufacturing trends of 2014

Top 5 Food and Drink Manufacturing Trends of 2014

Topics: Traceability, Food and Drink, Compliance