As part of a drive to cut food waste, the Food Standards Agency has revised its advice on using eggs after their ‘best before’ date. The advice now is that, providing the eggs are cooked thoroughly, they can be eaten a day or two after their ‘best before’ date.
Previously, the advice was that eggs should not be eaten after their ‘best before’ date, as eggs can sometimes contain salmonella bacteria. If salmonella is present in eggs, it could multiply to high levels and cause food poisoning. But salmonella contamination levels in UK-produced eggs are low, and salmonella is killed by thorough cooking.
This is why the advice is now that eggs can be eaten after their ‘best before' date, as long as they are cooked thoroughly until both yolk and white are solid, or if they are used in dishes where they will be fully cooked, such as a cake.
Apart from eggs, most foods can be eaten safely after the ‘best before’ date, as this is mostly about quality rather than safety. Past this date, it doesn't mean that the food will be harmful, rather that its flavour, colour or texture might begin to deteriorate.
However, it is still important to remember that if food has a ‘use by’ date, then it shouldn’t be used after this date as it could put your health at risk.
Source: Food Standards Agency
The new Food Information Regulation (FIR), designed to make food labelling easier to understand for consumers, has been published by the European Union.
The regulation combines rules on general food and nutrition labelling into a single EU regulation (see link below). Transitional arrangements set out in the FIR mean that the bulk of the requirements will not apply until 2014, with nutrition labelling becoming mandatory in 2016.
The main points are:
- Country of origin – subject to further discussion, the introduction of mandatory origin information for most fresh and frozen meat. For example, it will be possible for 'Scotland', 'England', 'Wales' and 'Northern Ireland' to be used on food labels without mentioning 'UK' under new provenance rules. Also, the origin of main ingredients will have to be given if different from where the final product is made.
- Nutrition labelling will be required for most foods. Simplified information may be provided voluntarily on front of pack.
- Labelling clarity – a minimum font size has been set for all mandatory information on most food labels.
- Allergen information will have to be provided on all food (whether sold prepacked or loose). For prepacked foods, the allergens will have to be highlighted on the ingredient list.
- Drinks with high caffeine content will have to be additionally labelled as not recommended for children, or pregnant and breastfeeding women, with the actual caffeine content quoted.
- Meat and fish products that look like a cut, joint or slice and contain more than 5% added water will have to show this in the name of the food.
- The types of vegetable oil used in food, such as palm oil, must be stated.
The EU has also agreed:
- To make it easier for alcoholic drinks companies to voluntarily include calorie information on product labels.
- To enable voluntary provision of calorie information in out of home settings.
- To continue to permit selling by numbers – such as a dozen bread rolls or eggs.
Providing food information for consumers
Following an EU-wide review of both general food and nutrition labelling legislation, the European Parliament approved the text for a new Food Information for Consumers Regulation (FIR) on 6 July 2011 and this was adopted by the Council of the European Union on 29 September 2011.
The new regulation brings EU rules on general and nutrition labelling together into a single regulation to simplify and consolidate existing labelling legislation and applies in all Member States, replacing current UK law after a three-year transitional period. The EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation has now been published in the Official Journal of the EU at the link below. Transitional arrangements mean that most requirements do not apply until 2014 and nutrition labelling will become mandatory in 2016.
Legislation to provide for the execution and enforcement of this regulation will be needed in each of the four countries of the UK, and the FSA will be working with Defra, the Department of Health and the Welsh Government on this.
Key areas of the regulation include:
- Country of origin/Place of provenance: origin requirements have been tightened and also extended to fresh and frozen meat and will be subject to implementing rules to be proposed by the Commission. ‘Place of provenance’ has been retained and under this for example, Scotland or a recognised area may be used without reference to the UK. The Commission will also undertake reviews on widening the scope to include other foods, including meat and dairy products.
- Nutrition labelling: 'back of pack' information will become mandatory on the majority of prepacked foods, and it will be possible to voluntarily repeat on ‘front of pack’ information on nutrients of importance to public health. It will also be possible to provide voluntary nutrition information in the 'front of pack' format on food sold loose (eg on deli counters) and in catering establishments. In addition, there remains scope for businesses to use Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs) based on reference intakes specified in the regulations and (subject to certain conditions) additional forms of expression and presentation.
- Alcoholic drinks will be exempted from mandatory nutrition labelling, but it will be possible for manufacturers to provide energy information on a voluntary basis.
- Date marking: depending on the type of food, consumers will continue to see 'best before' and 'use by' dates on pre-packed foods. The latter will be more tightly linked to food safety. Where appropriate i.e. for meat and fish, there will also be a date of first freezing shown on food labels.
- A minimum font size for the mandatory information on most food labels will aid clarity.
- Drinks with high caffeine content will have to be additionally labelled as not recommended for children or pregnant and breastfeeding women, with the actual caffeine content quoted.
- The types of vegetable oil used in food, such as palm oil, must be stated.
- Allergen information will be extended to loose foods and catering situations with flexibility in how businesses provide this to consumers.
- Added water in certain meat and fishery products will need to be shown in the name of the food if it makes up more than 5% of the final product.
UK responsibilities for FIR
Please be aware that the responsibility for the FIR varies across the UK. Following the Westminster Machinery of Government changes carried out in 2010, general food labelling policy responsibilities (where this is not related to food safety) in England have been transferred from FSA to Defra. Responsibility for nutrition labelling policy has been transferred to the Department of Health.
In England, the FSA leads on food safety aspects of food labelling and continues its liaison with food authorities in relation to food labelling law enforcement.
In Scotland and Northern Ireland, the FSA have retained responsibility for all aspects of general food labelling and nutrition labelling policy, including liaison with food authorities.
In Wales, the FSA continues to lead on general food labelling policy and food labelling law enforcement, although responsibility for nutrition labelling policy is now with the Welsh Government
Specific FSA contacts are as follows:
England: Food Standards enforcement
tel: 0207 276 8016 email: email@example.com
Scotland: Food Labelling and Standards Team
tel: 01224 285155 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
tel: 02890 417742 email: Mervyn.Briggs@foodstandards.gsi.gov.uk
tel: 029 20678912 email: Kerys.James-Palmer@foodstandards.gsi.gov.uk
Source: Food Standards Agency
The Food Standards Agency has teamed up with Channel 4 to sponsor its Christmas recipe web pages over the holiday season. This allows the Agency to highlight its Christmas food hygiene and safety messages to a wider audience as they plan their Christmas menus.
Unless you take care, food poisoning can be an unwelcome Christmas guest. The Agency has a range of information to help, including tips for preparing and cooking your turkey. But keeping Christmas dinner safe is not just about taking care with turkey. Recent Agency research found that consumers are aware of the risk of harmful germs from raw meat, but are less aware of the risks from raw vegetables.
Bob Martin, food safety expert at the Food Standards Agency, said: ‘Preparing Christmas dinner can be a challenge, as most of us aren’t used to cooking for so many people. It can be easy to make mistakes in the kitchen that increase the risk of food poisoning.
‘One of the main rules to remember is to avoid cross-contamination from raw meat or poultry on to other foods. Keep all raw food, whether it’s your turkey or vegetables, separate from ready-to-eat foods. Always wash your hands before and after handling food but don't wash your turkey, as that will only spread germs. Instead, make sure that it gets cooked properly, and that means right the way through.
‘There are around a million cases of food poisoning over the year, but following some simple steps in the kitchen can help protect you and your family.’
Bacteria can spread from raw meat, poultry and vegetables to worktops, chopping boards, dishes and utensils. To keep your Christmas meal safe, remember the following:
- Always wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling raw food, including raw meat and vegetables. Wash your hands with warm water and soap, and dry them thoroughly.
- Don’t wash your turkey (or any other poultry) before you cook it. If you do, any bacteria present can splash onto worktops, dishes and other foods. Proper cooking will kill any bacteria.
- Check the label on pre-packed fruit and vegetables. Unless the packaging says 'ready-to-eat' you must wash, peel, or cook the produce before eating.
Choosing the turkey
The number of people eating turkey and how much meat you would like left over will determine what kind of turkey product you buy. You can choose from a whole turkey, turkey crown, saddle of turkey or pre-stuffed turkey. As a guideline, a good-sized turkey for the average family is 6-8 lb (3-3.5 kg).
Once purchased, store your turkey safely before cooking. Most retailers provide storage instructions – be guided by these. The 'use by' date is normally found on the packaging if the turkey is wrapped. If there are no instructions, fresh or defrosted raw poultry should be stored in the fridge and cooked within 2 days.
Defrosting the turkey
Frozen turkeys must be thoroughly defrosted before cooking. If it’s still partially frozen, it may not cook evenly, and harmful bacteria could survive the cooking process. Work out the thawing time in advance, as large birds may take a couple of days to thaw fully. Check the packaging for any guidance.
If none is available, the following suggestions provide a rough guideline on how long your turkey will take to thaw:
- In a fridge at 4ºC (39ºF), allow about 10 to 12 hours per kg. Remember that not all fridges will be this temperature.
- In a cool room (below 17.5ºC, 64ºF), allow approximately three to four hours per kg, longer if the room is particularly cold.
- At room temperature (about 20ºC, 68ºF) allow approximately two hours per kg.
Remove the giblets and the neck (if present) as soon as possible, as this speeds up thawing. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling the raw bird, giblet, packaging or any other raw meat.
When you start defrosting, put the turkey on a large dish and cover. The dish will hold the liquid that comes out as the turkey thaws, and prevent it from dripping onto other foods. Covering the turkey ensures that it doesn’t cross-contaminate any other food nearby, especially any food that might be eaten raw. Use aluminium foil, cling film or other material designed for use with food.
Put the covered turkey and dish in the fridge. Make sure it doesn’t touch other foods or drip onto them. If it’s not possible to defrost your turkey in the fridge, use a cool, clean place or a garage – watch out for sudden extremes in temperature and make sure that pets and young children are kept away. Remember that the temperature of the place where the turkey is kept will affect thawing times.
Regularly pour away the liquid that comes out of the defrosting turkey to stop it overflowing and spreading bacteria. Avoid splashing the liquid onto worktops, dishes, cloths or other food. Use a fork to test the thickest part of the meat for ice, and check that there are no ice crystals in the cavity.
Don’t wash your turkey, or any type of bird, before cooking. The splatters resulting from washing raw meat, particularly under running water, may cause bacteria to spread to other surfaces and foods, and result in cross-contamination. Any germs that might be present on the bird will be killed by cooking your turkey thoroughly.
When fully defrosted, put the turkey in the fridge until you're ready to cook. Do not keep it defrosted for more than 2 days. If this isn't possible, cook it immediately.
Cooking the turkey
Plan your cooking time in advance. A large turkey can take several hours to cook thoroughly, so make sure you get the bird in the oven early enough. Eating undercooked turkey (or other poultry) could cause food poisoning.
To work out the cooking time, check the retailer’s instructions on the packaging. If there aren't any, use our general guide.
In an oven preheated to 180ºC (350ºF, Gas Mark 4):
- Allow 45 minutes per kg plus 20 minutes for a turkey under 4.5kg.
- Allow 40 minutes per kg for a turkey that's between 4.5kg and 6.5kg.
- Allow 35 minutes per kg for a turkey of more than 6.5kg.
These cooking times are based on an unstuffed bird. If you cook your bird with the stuffing inside, you need to allow extra cooking time for the stuffing and for the fact that the bird will cook more slowly.
Some fan assisted ovens may cook the turkey more quickly. Follow the guidance on the packaging and the manufacturer's handbook for your oven.
The simplest way to know if the bird is cooked is to check that it is steaming hot all the way through, so that when you cut into the thickest part of the meat, no pinkness remains and that the juices run clear when you pierce the turkey or press the thigh.
Alternatively, you can check the thickest part (between the breast and the thigh) with a temperature probe/food thermometer. The core meat should reach a temperature of 70°C for 2 minutes (see Thermometers and probes below).
A turkey crown (a whole bird with the legs removed), boneless turkey or other turkey cuts should be cooked exactly the same as a whole turkey. However, always follow the guidance given by the retailer from whom you bought the turkey crown.
Thermometers and probes
You can use a temperature probe or food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the meat periodically while the bird is cooking. Clean the probe in hot, soapy water after each use to avoid spreading germs.
Ensure that the thickest part of the bird (between the breast and the thigh) reaches at least 70°C for more than 2 minutes.
A cooking thermometer is usually left in the bird while it cooks. It should be placed in the thickest part of the bird (between the breast and the thigh) from the start of cooking. The bird is cooked when the thermometer has reached 70°C for more than 2 minutes.
Pop-up timers indicate when the bird is thoroughly cooked. When the indicator stick (typically red) pops up, the bird is thoroughly cooked. You might want to double check this visually, by ensuring that there is no pinkness in the thickest part of the meat and that the juices run clear when you pierce the turkey or press the thigh.
You can cook your turkey thoroughly in advance and then keep it until you’re ready to reheat and eat – either store it in the fridge for up to 2 days, or freeze it.
For fridge storage, ensure that the turkey is thoroughly cooked until steaming hot, that no pinkness remains and that any juices run clear. Then cool, cover, and put in the fridge within 1–2 hours of cooking; you can carve it into smaller portions to help it to cool more quickly. Then treat it as fresh and eat within 2 days of cooking.
If cooking the turkey more than 2 days in advance, the cooked meat should be frozen. Again, cook, cool, and then place in the freezer within 1-2 hours after cooking. The meat can safely be frozen for several months, though the quality may deteriorate with time.
Leftover turkey can be kept in the fridge for up to 2 days. Large amounts of leftover food should be separated into portions before storing in the fridge or freezer.
Refrigerated leftover meat can be served cold, hot or used to make a new dish. If serving turkey cold, take out only as much as you're going to use and leave the rest in the fridge. If serving turkey hot, reheat the leftovers (don’t reheat more than once) until steaming hot throughout.
To use frozen leftover turkey, make sure it has been defrosted thoroughly in the fridge overnight or in a microwave on the defrost setting. If it is to be eaten hot, reheat until steaming hot again.
Vegetables - best served washed
It’s not just undercooked turkey that can cause problems at Christmas. Care needs to be taken with fruits and vegetables, too. Although they don’t pose as great a risk as raw meat, they can still harbour harmful bacteria that can be spread onto surfaces and other foods, where they could cause food poisoning.
Proper washing helps to remove any bacteria from the surface, as most of the bacteria will be in the soil attached to the produce. Peeling or cooking fruit and vegetables can also remove bacteria.
Loose produce tends to have more soil attached to it than pre-packaged fruit and vegetables. When preparing vegetables for your Christmas meal, such as parsnips, carrots and potatoes, brush off any dry soil before washing. This may also help reduce the amount of washing required to clean the vegetables thoroughly.
Start with the least soiled items first. Don't simply hold them under a running tap – rub them under water, for example in a bowl of fresh water. This helps to reduce splashing and the possibility of bacteria being released into the air. And don’t forget to give them a final rinse.
What about other birds such as goose and duck
Other birds, such as goose and duck, require different cooking times and temperatures. The oven should always be hotter for duck and goose in order to melt the fat under the skin.
- Cook goose in a preheated oven at 200°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7 for 35 minutes per kg
- Cook duck in a preheated oven for 45 minutes per kg at 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6
- Cook chicken in a preheated oven at 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4 for 45 minutes per kg plus 20 minutes
Poultry and Campylobacter
Campylobacter is the most common food bug found on turkeys. A recent study of poultry found contamination on more than half of the raw turkey sampled. The study, carried out in raw retail poultry on sale in Northern Ireland, reported that 56% of turkeys and 91% of chickens were contaminated.
The Agency has identified campylobacter as the biggest source of food poisoning in the UK, and estimates more than 370,000 people got ill from it in 2009, with around 26,500 cases in December 2009 alone. Symptoms include severe abdominal pain and diarrhoea.
However, the Agency stresses that cooking your turkey properly will kill campylobacter and any other bacteria.
Bob Martin also said: 'Campylobacter is commonly found in poultry in the UK – unfortunately it is too common. This is why we have identified reducing these levels as our number one food safety priority and are working closely with poultry producers and retailers to tackle the problem. However, people shouldn’t worry and certainly shouldn’t take turkey off their Christmas menu – because food poisoning can be easily prevented. Cooking your turkey properly will mean it is safe to enjoy.'
Source: Food Standards Agency
The Food Standards Agency has updated its list of product ranges that do not contain the six food colours associated with possible hyperactivity in young children.
Another four companies producing product lines free of the colours have been added to the list: 3663, Cott Beverages Ltd, Mitchells and Butlers and Zeina Foods Ltd.
The list includes companies that have product ranges which have never contained the six colours and companies that have reformulated their product ranges to remove the colours.
The colours, identified by a Southampton University study financed by the Food Standards Agency, are:
- sunset yellow FCF (E110)
- quinoline yellow (E104)
- carmoisine (E122)
- allura red (E129)
- tartrazine (E102)
- ponceau 4R (E124)
The Agency is publicising the product ranges to encourage the food industry to participate in the voluntary ban. The voluntary ban was agreed by Ministers in November 2008.
Consumers who are particularly concerned about the presence of the colours should continue to check labels, especially in the case of products with a long shelf-life, where the availability of reformulated products may vary.
Any food manufacturer, retailer or caterer wishing to notify the Agency that their brands or products are free of these colours should email the details to Benedict Duncan, at: email@example.com
The Agency's website will be updated regularly as new information is provided.
Source: Food Standards Agency
It is difficult to assess the potential health impact of these findings, as the available research techniques are not able to differentiate between infectious and non-infectious norovirus material within the oysters. Furthermore, a safe limit for norovirus has not been established.
Between 2009 and 2011, scientists from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), on behalf of the Food Standards Agency, took samples from 39 oyster harvesting areas across the UK. More than 800 samples of 10 oysters each were tested.
The research will contribute to a European Food Safety Authority review of norovirus levels in oysters, which will advise the European Commission on setting a specific legal safe level for norovirus in oysters placed on sale in the EU. The Agency and the shellfish industry are also continuing to work together to develop controls for norovirus.
Andrew Wadge, Chief Scientist at the Food Standards Agency, said: ‘This research is the first of its kind in the UK. It will be important to help improve the knowledge of the levels of norovirus found in shellfish at production sites. The results, along with data from other research, will help us work with producers to find ways to reduce the levels of norovirus in shellfish, and work within Europe to establish safe levels.
‘Though oysters are traditionally eaten raw, people should be aware of the risks involved in eating them in this way,’ he explains. ‘The Agency advises that older people, pregnant women, very young children and people who are unwell should avoid eating raw or lightly cooked shellfish to reduce their risk of getting food poisoning.’
David Lees, the lead investigator at Cefas, said: ‘We were fortunate to have excellent cooperation from the oyster producers and from local authority officers in conducting this study. Norovirus is a recognised problem for the sector, and this study provides important baseline data to help the industry and regulators to focus on the key risks.’
Science behind the story
Oysters filter large volumes of water to get their food, and any bacteria and viruses in the water can build up within the oyster. Controls before and after commercial harvesting of oysters, such as re-laying and depuration, provide good protection against harmful bacteria, but are less effective at removing viruses from live shellfish.
Re-laying is a purification process used to treat bivalve shellfish. Shellfish are harvested from a contaminated area and moved to clean areas, where they are placed on the ocean floor or into containers laid on the ocean floor, or suspended in racks. Re-laying will generally be for at least two months.
Depuration is a purification process used commercially and regulated by the Food Standards Agency. It is commonly used by producers to reduce or eliminate microbiological contamination in oysters and other shellfish. Shellfish are placed in tanks of clean re-circulating seawater, treated by UV irradiation, and allowed to purge their contaminants over several days. In the UK a minimum purification time of 42 hours is required.
Most norovirus infections are thought to spread from person-to-person, although contaminated food is still thought to account for a proportion of cases. It can be carried on different types of food, not just shellfish.
Norovirus is the most common viral cause of diarrhoea and vomiting in the UK, according to recent Agency research (the IID2 study). It is highly infectious, but the illness is generally mild and people usually recover fully within two to three days. There are no known long term effects.
Developing ways of reducing foodborne norovirus infection is a key priority in the Food Standards Agency’s Foodborne Disease Strategy for 2010-15. Further information on the IID2 study and the Agency’s Foodborne Disease Strategy are available at the links below.
P01009 (FS235003): Investigation into the prevalence, distribution and levels of norovirus titre in oyster harvesting areas in the UK
Source: Food Standards Agency
Campylobacter bacterial food poisoning linked with under cooked chicken livers in catering establishments
HPA investigations into these outbreaks revealed that livers used to make the paté weren’t thoroughly cooked, allowing the liver to remain pink in the centre. Chefs and other caterers should ensure that campylobacter is killed through proper cooking. They should also follow good food hygiene practices when handling and cooking poultry livers, to avoid contaminating other foods with campylobacter.
Bob Martin, head of foodborne disease strategy at the Food Standards Agency, said: ‘Unfortunately, levels of campylobacter in raw chicken are high, so it’s really important that chefs thoroughly cook chicken livers fully to kill any bacteria, until there is no pinkness left in the centre, even if recipes call for them to be seared and left pink in the middle. It’s the only way of ensuring the paté will be safe to serve to their customers.’
The Agency is also working closely with the UK poultry industry and retailers to develop targeted actions along the food chain to reduce levels of campylobacter in UK-produced poultry.
Science behind the story
Poultry livers carry a high risk of campylobacter. The bacteria can be present throughout the liver, not just on the surface as is the case for poultry meat, and may remain a source of infection if they are not cooked sufficiently.
It’s estimated that there were more than 370,000 cases of campylobacter infection 2009 in England. Symptoms include diarrhoea, stomach pains and cramps, fever, and generally feeling unwell, though vomiting is uncommon. Illness suffered by most cases start to clear up after two to three days of diarrhoea and 80 to 90% recover within one week. Severe long-term after-effects following infections are rare but do occur.
Some recipes indicate that searing chicken liver is enough to kill any bacteria that may be present. However, food safety experts at the Agency advise that chicken liver should not be treated like a piece of steak and must be cooked all the way through. Campylobacter can be present throughout the liver, not just on the surface.
The most recent figures suggest that 65% of shop-bought chicken is contaminated with campylobacter. The bug is responsible for more than 300,000 cases of food poisoning and 15,000 hospitalisations a year in England and Wales. The FSA has identified the reduction of human foodborne disease, and in particular tackling campylobacter infections acquired from chicken, as a key priority for the next five years.
Data provided by the Health Protection Agency shows that during 2009 the number of outbreaks of campylobacter associated with chicken liver products increased substantially: nine of the 15 outbreaks reported between 2005 and 2009 occurred during 2009. An additional five outbreaks associated with consumption of chicken liver pâté or parfait were reported in the first half of 2010.
The majority of the outbreaks between 2005 and 2010 associated with pâté or parfait products have been at catering establishments, like restaurants and hotels, and have involved products that have been prepared on site as opposed to purchased ready-made.
The Agency advises that liver, kidneys, and other types of offal should be handled hygienically to avoid cross-contamination and cooked thoroughly until they are steaming hot all the way through, reaching a core temperature of 70°C for two minutes or equivalent. The equivalent heat treatments are:
- 65°C: 10 minutes
- 70°C: 2 minutes
- 75°C: 30 seconds
- 80°C: 6 seconds
Source: Food Standards Agency