Seeds and beans from Egypt still banned in Europe; inefficiency of procedures

The European Union (EU) has extended the ban on selected Egyptian seeds and beans, which was imposed following the deadly E .coli outbreaks in Europe earlier this year.

The ban was set to expire on 31 October 2011. However, the European Commission has extended the ban until 31 March 2012, due to the inefficiency of the procedures taken by Egyptian authorities to ensure the integrity of grain and plant exports.

The ban will remain on items including rocket sprouts, sprouts of leguminous vegetables (fresh or chilled), soya bean sprouts, dried (shelled) leguminous vegetables, fenugreek seeds, soya beans and mustard seeds.

Imports of fresh and chilled peas and beans will be allowed, as the EU ban on these items was lifted in October.

Deceptive and dangerous: Australian diet product fails toxin test

Bogus food claims can be more than deceptive, they can be dangerous.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that two top-selling diet products are the subject of an urgent recall after tests revealed they are highly toxic.

Marketers of The Latin Seed and Slim Seed, who say they have thousands of Australian customers, claim their products are derived from Aleurites moluccana, commonly known as candlenut.

But tests by the New South Wales Food Authority showed the seeds are actually from the poisonous yellow oleander.

The food watchdog has advised anyone taking the products to stop, and asked stockists to remove them from shelves. It has recommended that anyone who has concerns about consuming the seeds seek medical advice.

”The authority has received medical advice that yellow oleander contains cardiac glycosides which can be highly toxic to the heart,” a NSW Food Authority spokeswoman said.

”Consequently the authority has advised the distributors of these products that further sale should be discontinued and that the products be withdrawn from sale.”

Both products are widely advertised in Australia as a way to help people manage their weight by chopping up the seed and consuming it with hot water.

They have also come under fire from the authority for making misleading claims about their weight-loss properties. The watchdog has fined the companies selling the products and placed them on its ”name and shame” list.

NSW Minister for Primary Industries Steve Whan said the two companies marketing the products, Latin Seed and Slim Seed, were duping vulnerable consumers.

”Trying to lose weight is a serious and sensitive issue for many people and there is absolutely no room for companies or individuals who try to take advantage of this situation.”

Sesame, sunflower seeds possibly linked to UK salmonella outbreak

The Independent reports that Tesco, Waitrose and well-known health food shops have withdrawn tens of thousands of packets of edible seeds in one of the biggest product recalls in a decade after a survey found "unacceptable" levels of salmonella and E. coli.

One-in-50 packs of ready-to-eat seeds such as sesame and sunflower was found to be contaminated.

The study’s authors pointed out that although there was no direct link to the contaminated seeds, 137 people in England and Wales fell ill from six sub-types of salmonella found in the seeds during the six-month study. Many more ill people are likely to have not reported their symptoms to GPs. The Health Protection Agency and the local authority group Lacors, which conducted the study, warned food manufacturers and retailers to improve hygiene during harvesting and drying of seeds.

The study was carried out because seeds – a popular snack among health-conscious shoppers wishing to avoid high-calorie chocolate and sweets – have become associated with at least seven outbreaks of salmonella in countries such as Germany, Norway, Sweden and Australia since 2000.

To gauge levels of contamination here, environmental health officers from 317 local authorities collected 3,735 packets of ready-to-eat seeds from 3,390 supermarkets, health food shops, convenience stores and market stalls between October 2007 and March 2008. They were analysed in 32 food laboratories.

Sesame and Salmonella — the new macaroni and cheese?

This morning the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is announcing a recall of a sesame seed product (crackers and chips) due to Salmonella contamination.  Although no illnesses linked to the crackers have been confirmed, this recall one is yet another in a string of recalls linked to Salmonella-contaminated sesame seeds and products.

On January 22, 2008 CFIA announced a recall of bulk and packaged organic sesame seeds distributed under various brands in the Atlantic provinces, Quebec, Ontario and Alberta and British Columbia due to Salmonella contamination.

In June 2007 CFIA warned that GD Sesame seed might have been contaminated with Salmonella and conducted a recall (and check out the related alerts under the press release title, there were an additional eight sesame/Salmonella recalls linked to this one in 2007).

In May Salmonella-contaminated sesame tahini was recalled by Whole Foods Market Inc.

Last January the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found Salmonella in sesame seeds at Woodhouse Commodities Inc. (and the president of the company was charged for allegedly not disclosing that some of the seeds were sold despite a product hold).

Last years major Salmonella outbreak linked to peanut butter, and two big Salmonella outbreaks linked to almonds earlier in the decade demonstrate how resilient Salmonella can be on dried products. At IAFP in August 2005, I co-moderated a symposium at which Robert Tauxe of the CDC said sesame seeds and Salmonella was the next big thing on the international food safety horizon.  His prediction is looking pretty good.