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Northern Ireland consumers not at risk in eggs health scare, says watchdog

A food safety watchdog has insisted food products containing contaminated eggs have not been found in Northern Ireland.

The food alert began last month when it was discovered thousands of tonnes of animal feed contaminated by highly toxic dioxins had been sent to more than 1,000 poultry and pig farms in Germany.

Eggs from those farms were sent to the Netherlands for processing and then on to the UK, where the liquid egg was used in some cakes and quiches.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said two UK manufacturers had used the eggs but there was a very low risk to human health, because the eggs were diluted with other products.

A spokeswoman for the FSA in Northern Ireland said yesterday: “The investigation is ongoing but nothing has turned up in Northern Ireland. We can also reassure consumers that the level of dioxin found in these products is above the permitted level. You would have to be eating a lot of these products over a long period of time for there to be any health risk.”

Dioxins are chemicals that get into our food from the environment. They have no immediate effect on our health but can cause problems if they are absorbed at high levels for long periods.

Foods high in animal fat, such as milk, meat, fish and eggs (and foods produced with them) are the main source of dioxins, although all foods contain at least low levels of these chemicals.

Professor Chris Elliott, chair of Food Safety and Microbiology at Queen’s University Belfast, agreed there was minimal risk to people’s health. However, he expressed concern about the traceability of contaminants in food. “Traceability of food is in its infancy,” he said. “It is incredibly difficult to trace contents of food. All we know is that there is no information at present to suggest that the contaminated eggs are in Northern Ireland.”

The professor explained that food traceability is still a paper-based trail, which is vulnerable to human error. “Northern Ireland has one of the best IT systems for food traceability but compared to other industries such as the car and aerospace industry, food traceability has a very basic audit trail,” he commented. Jim Nicholson MEP said he was surprised by the situation given “all the controls and checks”.

“In Northern Ireland our industry is all too aware of the problems caused by a dioxin scare when contaminated animal feed ended up on a number of beef and pig farms in Northern Ireland in 2008,” he said. “The best advice has been offered by the British Egg Council which has advised manufacturers using liquid eggs in light of this scare to use British lion eggs or egg products.”

The pasteurised liquid egg was supplied to two manufacturers in the UK, Kensey Foods, Cornwall and Memory Lane Cakes Ltd, Cardiff, who used it to produce a range of short shelf-life cakes and quiches which were supplied to major UK supermarkets.

The FSA said it did not have a definitive list of the supermarkets, but Tesco was one of them.

The FSA said: “There is no food safety risk from eating these products. The majority of products will have been sold and most have passed their ‘use by' or ‘best before' dates. Supermarkets are removing the small amount of products that are still in date.”

Belfast Telegraph