Are you looking for parsley sausage from the Spar brand, or ice creams from Twix and Snickers in the supermarket? Then your shopping basket will remain empty. These are products that have been taken off the shelves in recent weeks. And the list of products that you can no longer find in the store is getting longer. More than 200 products have already been taken off the shelves. Supermarket chains speak of the largest recall ever. Trade federation Comeos also confirms this.
“We have 15 recall operations per year, this year we are already at 50. Never seen before,” says Roel Dekelver (Delhaize).
What is going on?
The culprit in this story is ethylene oxide. A substance that is not allowed in Europe, but other countries still use it to repel fungi or salmonella. If it is found in products here, they should be taken off the shelves. Those who do eat it are not in immediate danger, but in the long term there can be a health risk. "If you consume products with ethylene oxide in large quantities every day for years, there may be a possible risk to health, for example cancer," says Hélène Bonte of the FASFC.
Last year, many preparations containing sesame were recalled. Now it also concerns products with locust bean gum. “The majority of the recalls we are currently carrying out are products containing locust bean gum. That is a raw material that provides a creamy texture. It is mainly used in ice creams, but also in vinaigrettes or other sauces. Ethylene oxide has also been found on that locust bean gum,” says Bonte.
Although the final product sometimes contains only a very small amount of contaminated sesame, spices or locust bean gum, Europe recently decided that all finished products that are contaminated should be recalled.
“It all started in September last year when we discovered ethylene oxide had been used on a shipment of sesame seeds from India. As a result, we and other European member states have broadened our controls and have also started testing other products that we suspect may have been processed with ethylene oxide. So it is no longer just about products based on sesame seeds, but also spices and locust bean gum.”
Not only are there more checks by the FASFC, food companies themselves have also started checking more whether the raw materials they import contain residues of ethylene oxide. There are also more checks in other European countries.
“Because the contaminated raw materials are often only used in very small quantities in a final product, a wide range of products are involved. When we come across a contaminated product, we have to trace where it may have been used, so that all contaminated end products can be taken off the shelves.”
Who the complete list of recalled products, you can do so on the website of the FASFC. The Food Agency warns that the list could grow. Those who have purchased the products in question are advised to return them to the point of sale.
Extra deployment of supermarket staff
The fact that so many products have to be removed from the store shelves also demands more and more from the staff in the supermarkets. “On average, we have to take about 15 products off the shelves at Delhaize a year,” says spokesman Roel Dekelver. “This year there are already 50.”
Fevia, the federation of the Belgian food industry, also has reservations about the massive recalls. The federation asks to reconsider the strict European rules.
After all, the products have to be taken off the shelves as soon as ethylene oxide is detected in one of its ingredients, even if there is no trace of it left in the end product. “In that case, there is clearly no danger to public health. Can such an approach still be justified in view of the food loss and the enormous costs associated with it?”, Fevia wonders.
The food companies estimate that the recalls will cost them millions of euros. “Food companies must compensate both customers and consumers, destroy products as sustainably as possible and restart production with a loss of efficiency and with other raw materials,” says Buysse. “In some cases, insurance covers these costs or companies can recover them from suppliers, but even then the impact remains significant. In addition, any recall also involves some form of food loss.”
With a good tracing system, the recall can be limited to the essentials. By means of a clear lot number management, one can limit oneself to customers and/or suppliers who have a sales or purchase history of the lot numbers of products with an active recall.