UK detects banned additive from China in mini jelly cup

By Lindsey Partos

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: European union, European commission, European food safety authority

Mid-melamine scare, food safety issues are compounded for European confectioners as Europe's alert system flags up a confectionery product for children containing an additive from China that could constitute a choking risk.

The UK authorities last week informed fellow European member states that they had rejected (and destroyed) a border consignment of mini jelly cups due to the presence of a banned seaweed extract.

Far from being the first such recall, fears over the safety of mini jelly cups – the size of a single-serve coffee creamer – prompted a swathe of recalls in 2002 to 2004 on both sides of the Atlantic following reports that they could pose a risk of death by choking, particularly to children and elderly people.

Indeed, in 2002, in light of evidence that mini jelly cups containing the food additive konjac had posed a choking hazard, the Commission adopted Decision 2002/247/EC, an emergency measure that suspended the import and distribution of jelly confectionery containing konjac, otherwise known as E425 in European labelling parlance.

In parallel, the European Commission asked its risk assessor, the European Food Safety Authority, to investigate whether other gel-forming food additives used in mini jelly cups could pose a danger to public health.

Their investigation centred on any gel-forming additive, whether derived from seaweed – E400, E401, E402, E403, E404, E405, E406, E407, E407a – or from a non-seaweed origin (E410, E412, E413, E414, E415, E417, E418).

The scientific panel at the EFSA concluded shortly after that "these products also constitute a risk for choking"​.

"These also give rise to the formation of firm gels that do not solubilise easily and would also be likely to initiate a coughing reaction if they were ingested as a whole and became lodged in the airway in the throat,"​ the EFSA reported in 2004.

Following through, in 2004, Commission Decision 2004/374/EC– another emergency measure – suspended the import and distribution of jelly confectionery containing the food additive E400, E401, E402, E403, E404, E405, E406, E407, E407a, E410, E412, E413, E414, E415, E417and/or E418.

A Commission spokesperson confirmed to today that Decision 2002/247/EC and Decision 2004/374/EC "were emergency measures and were being enforced by the member states"​.

However, according to the spokesperson, in order to formalise this restriction on the use of these food additives "in this particular problematic product [jelly mini cups]"​ the Commission then proposed an amendment to the relevant legislation (European Parliament and Council Directive 95/2/EC).

This amendment was subject to the codecision process, and was eventually adopted as European Parliament and Council Directive 2006/52/EC of 5 July 2006.

The directive restricted the use of certain gel forming food additives in mini jelly cups and defined, for the purposes of the Directive, what a mini jelly cup was.

According to the Commission, the emergency decisions currently remain in place.

The decisions will be repealed in the future as the permanent restriction, introduced by Directive 2006/52/EC, was required to be implemented by all the member states by 15 August 2008.

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