Preservatives controversy over FSANZ sulphites survey

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 26th April 2012

Australia’s food regulatory agency Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has issued the results of its survey on usage of sulphites in sausages, cordial and dried fruit.

However, one of Australia’s leading food law experts has criticized the FSANZ findings.

FSANZ Chief Executive Officer Steve McCutcheon said the latest survey built on previous surveys of sulphites undertaken by food regulators in Australia and “would help inform work on a proposal looking at the use of sulphites”.

“The results showed only three sausages out of 156 had levels above the limits set in the Food Standards Code,” Mr McCutcheon said.

“These exceedances have been reported to the relevant state or territory agency for follow up,” he said.

Sulphites, which occur naturally in foods and in the human body, are widely used to preserve food and have antioxidant and antimicrobial properties.

They have been linked to allergy-like symptoms, and asthmatic reactions in people who are sensitive to sulphites have been reported.

Like many additives, sulphites have an acceptable daily intake level (ADI) which is an estimate of how much of a chemical can be ingested daily over a lifetime without appreciable risk to health.

The use of sulphites is regulated by the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code and dietary exposure is also supposed to be monitored by FSANZ. The Code requires any added sulphites above a certain level to be declared on a label in the ingredients list.

Joe Lederman, Managing Principal of specialist firm FOODLEGAL criticized the findings.

“The FSANZ Survey in this context ought not to have been confined to  sulphites,” Mr Lederman said.

“Anecdotal evidence points to possible over-usage of artificial preservatives in meat and fish or ‘cocktails’ of additives being used improperly by butchers and fishmongers and other food shops,  for supposedly ‘fresh’ product in well-patronised fresh food shops,” he said.

Mr Lederman warned of the possible over-usage of nitrites to give product a darker red fresher look or colouring – even though they might leave a ‘smoky’ after-taste when cooked by the customer.

“Other preservatives such as benzoates also needed to be monitored, especially benzoates  ought not be used for inappropriate products such as certain high- acidic foods that can generate chemical reactions with  a benzene bi-product,” he said.

“Reassuring Australian consumers to give them confidence in the safety of their food is part of FSANZ’s job. However, this survey work on preservatives confined to sulphites is not a very thorough scientific assessment of the broader issue. What is needed to give transparency and adequate assurances for Australian consumers is a proper and thorough survey of all preserved and fresh products that examines the current usage of preservatives,” Mr Lederman added.