MPI food operation targets non-compliant sulphite use in raw meat

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Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) Food Act Officers recently visited a number of butchers and supermarkets in Auckland during an operation to collect samples of raw meat for sulphite analysis.

This was undertaken as part of MPI’s statutory obligation to ensure food safety standards are being met under the Food Act 1981.

Sulphites such as sulphur dioxide are food additives used as a preservative in some foods, including specified meat products, such as some sausages, luncheon meat and manufactured ham. Foods containing sulphites can cause serious reactions in certain individuals who are intolerant to them. MPI is concerned about a potential increase in the use of sulphur dioxide and other sulphites in raw meat.

Due to the potential serious health effects of consuming these additives, their use is strictly controlled by the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. The additives are only permitted in specified meat products, with maximum permitted levels specified.

Testing of products is currently underway and as such it is too early to say what the levels of compliance were, or whether any action will need to be taken against anyone found to be breaking the rules.

The incorrect use of additives breaches the Food Standards Code and the Food Act 1981. Under the Act, failure to comply with the Food Standards Code can result in a fine of up to $5000 for an individual or $20,000 for a body corporate.

MPI Manager of Operational Coordination, Gary Orr, says that operations such as this are a regular occurrence and are part of MPI’s ongoing efforts to ensure that food available to consumers is safe.

“MPI takes food safety very seriously and our Food Act Officers put in a great deal of effort to ensure the public can be confident that food available for purchase in New Zealand is safe to eat.”

If anyone has any questions or concerns about food safety, we encourage them to look for more information on our website or call the MPI food safety consumer helpline on 0800 69 37 21.

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