§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner)
My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Public Health (Miss Johnson) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I have been advised by the Food Standards Agency that on 18 February the agency issued advice to consumers not to eat foods that had inadvertently been contaminated with an illegal dye, Sudan 1. This advice follows previous action by the Food Standards Agency to ensure the withdrawal of a range of products containing contaminated chilli powder since July 2003.
Sudan 1 could contribute to an increased risk of cancer and it is sensible to avoid eating any more. However, at the levels present the risk is likely to be very small and there is no risk of immediate ill-health.
The Food Standards Agency, at the earliest practicable date, obtained an initial list of affected products (on the evening of 17 February) and published it together with its advice to consumers on 18 February. Further updates were published on 21 and 24 February, bringing the list of affected products to 474. The agency has taken the view that waiting for a single total list would provide less protection for consumers. The agency acted with all possible speed to inform consumers which products were affected so retailers and consumers could act on this advice.
The agency has contacted the major catering suppliers and they have withdrawn affected products and these are included in the lists on the website. More than 150 smaller companies that received contaminated products have also withdrawn products from their customers and these products will be listed on the agency website as soon as information becomes available.
Most of the products have now been withdrawn. Local authorities are pursuing this to ensure any remaining products are removed from sale as a matter of urgency. The agency is considering with local authorities what enforcement action may be necessary.
Since July 2003 all dried and crushed or ground hot chilli and hot chilli products entering the EU must have been tested for Sudan 1. The risk has been widely publicised in the UK food industry and affected products were withdrawn from sale. The Food Standards Agency and local authorities routinely test over 1,000 products a year for Sudan 1.
Food companies have a legal obligation to remove from sale products that do not meet food safety requirements and to inform the Food Standards Agency and local authorities, and advise consumers about the withdrawal.