The food alert system is broken. The tuna can problem is the best example

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Almost every week, the press wakes up with a new food alert. This time it has been a batch of cans of tuna in sunflower oil Histamines (a product of the degradation of histidine) have been found in them, which can cause vomiting, headaches, diarrhea and hives in what we call ‘toxic histaminosis’.


It is nothing exceptional, nor especially striking: in fact, it is a sign that (unlike countries like the US) the traceability system works relatively well. However, it is surprising that, in 2022, we are not only having a constant stream of these cases, but also the fact that it is so difficult to withdraw these products when they are already in consumers’ homes.

In search of zero risk. In recent decades, food industries have evolved in a truly remarkable way. A few years ago, Moya and Ferrer (from the toxicology area of ​​the University of Valencia) decided to put figures on that majeora and conducted a study on the evolution of the food alerts of the Coordinated System for the Rapid Exchange of Information. His data allowed us to be optimistic: despite the increase in risks arising from the free movement of products throughout the European Union, alerts decreased at a rate of almost 5% per year.

A zero risk that does not exist. However, as we have seen in recent years, the risk is still there. Cases of poor handling practices (lack of hygiene, training problems, etc…), limitations in control systems (bad evaluation of risks and hazards of industrial processes), contamination (due to lack of food defense mechanisms) and the frauds continue causing many problems food.

How do we find out? Because that is the real problem. Although news of recalled products is common, today it is very difficult to know if a can of tuna that we have in our pantry has been withdrawn from the market. Withdrawal systems work like clockwork all the way to the supermarket: beyond that, there is a lack of mechanisms that make it easy for consumers to access information.

The US FDA, in fact, recognized in 2019 that this was one of the big pending problems. And it is that in the US around 48 million people (1 in 6 Americans) fall ill with preventable food poisoning each year. 128,000 end up being hospitalized and some 3,000 end up dying. Comparatively, in Europe the situation is substantially betterbut more than 500 people die on the continent from preventable poisoning.

Technology against health alarms. In recent years, it is becoming easier to access health alerts because the internet has made it easier for authorities to create public databases. However, consulting these databases for the batch of cans of tuna that we have in the pantry is not a common practice in Spanish kitchens.

For this reason, although there is no lack of initiatives such as installation of QR codes in packages that allow the status of each product to be easily checked with a mobile phone at all times, the truth is that the effort made by the authorities to reduce the risks on this side is not as effective as we would like.

A pending task. There is still much to be done and being, as we are, an agri-food power (that is, an industrial giant of the products that more food alerts generate) it is reasonable to expect Spanish leadership in this field. It remains to be seen if we are capable of assuming it.

Image | openfoodfacts

Almost every week, the press wakes up with a new food alert. This time it has been a batch of…

Almost every week, the press wakes up with a new food alert. This time it has been a batch of…

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