A blog about the latest developments in the food technology sector.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
PERILS OF INTERNATIONAL FOOD TRADE-LIVE WITH E.COLI TWO YEARS MORE?
Did anyone forget about the E.coli tragedy that happened in Europe recently? Probably it may be difficult to remove the images of misery and trauma experienced by those who had the misfortune to consume salads supposed to be healthy! It was expected that with powerful enforcement machinery at its disposal the EU would not spare any effort to get to the "bottom" of this incidence to "pin point the culprit" and sure enough they found one in some Fenugreek seeds supposed to have been imported from Egypt, used for sprouting by the manufacturer in Germany. Look at the trail which was unraveled which highlights, if true, the imponderable dangers inherent in international import-export business.
Wired magazine reported the first wave of cases, in Germany in May, arose from a firm that grew and sold sprouts at wholesale. The sprouts from that farm would subsequently be linked to 41 separate clusters of cases; all of them could be traced back to that facility's sprouts, re-sold as a produce item somewhere in Europe. A second wave, in "France in June, initially confounded investigators. Out of those 16 cases, 11 had attended the same event. They did eat sprouts there — but not sprouts from the German farm. Instead, the sprouts had been grown by the event's catering firm, from seeds the company had bought at an everyday garden center. That shifted the focus from the German farm's practices to the seeds that both the farm and the caterer used. The German farm sold two blends of grown sprouts, spicy (grown from fenugreek and radish seeds and black and brown lentils) and mild (fenugreek and alfalfa seeds, adzuki beans and lentils). The French caterer had used three seed types: fenugreek, mustard and rocket (or roquette; what Americans call arugula). The only type in common with both companies and all the mixtures was fenugreek. That discovery sent EU investigators in pursuit of fenugreek seeds back down the European food chain, in a rapid-fire search that deployed personnel from eight countries' food agencies as well as the ECDC, World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. They drafted a detailed 4-page questionnaire that fed data into Excel spreadsheets and a relational database. They crunched (and crunched and crunched) the numbers, and this is what emerged: All of the seeds came from a single shipment that left a port in Egypt almost 2 years earlier, on Nov. 24, 2009. The seeds took a tortuous path. That initial shipment — which was immense, 15,000 kg (33,000 lbs) — was containerized at the port of Damietta in Egypt, shipped by boat to Antwerp in Belgium, went by barge to Rotterdam in the Netherlands where it passed customs, and then was trucked to Germany. There, an importer broke up the shipment: 10,500 kg to a single German distributor; 3,550 kg to nine other German companies; 375 kg to a Spanish company; 250 kg to an Austrian distributor that sold the entire lot to a single Austrian company; and 400 kg to a company in England".
Will there be any effort on the part of the global community to bring in some sanity in the present system? It is time to put in place an easier and more reliable "traceability" protocol that can trace the contaminated foods or ingredients to the source in a matter of few hours rather than weeks and months as it happened in the present case? One always wonders the Egyptian Fenugreek has become a scapegoat while sparing the local manufacturer all the blues! There is even a scientific theory floated to explain how the "indicted" bug got attached to the seed coat with "firm" bonding capable of withstanding the rigors of the shipment, storage and multiple stage handling conditions! If such an attitude to blame developing countries for every food poisoning episode in the world, what will happen to the concept of a seamless "world trading system" with no barriers? WTO must mull over this important issue without any further delay.