Cookies and Biscuits: Day 11 – 12 Days of Food Safety
Day 11: Cookies and Biscuits
12 Days of Food Safety
During the festive season, many of us indulge in our beloved biscuits such as classic Christmas cookies, traditional shortbread, or even engaging in crafting intricate gingerbread houses with our family. While our recent focus on food safety has involved examining the typical ingredients present in these treats such as flour, sugar, and fats like butter or oil, we’ve specifically examined these components to identify potential risks associated with presence of toxins like pesticides and mycotoxins, exploring available technologies to detect and measure them accurately. Yet, when we combine the different elements of biscuits, whether made at home or pre-made by reputable brands, at what point along the food chain are these technologies most relevant?
Sourcing of Ingredients
Food miles serve as an efficient means of tracking ingredients by calculating the distance they travel from their production site to the consumer. Focusing on the primary ingredients of biscuits like flour, sugar, butter, and cocoa sourced from their main exporting countries, our calculations reveal an estimated average journey of approximately 3,865.75 miles for a typical biscuit before it arrives in the UK household1. Our interest lies in determining the organisations responsible for conducting food testing throughout this very extensive journey
The majority of biscuit and flour brands in prominent UK supermarkets obtain their flour and raising agents from domestically milled crops, exemplified by Allison’s Flour2. UK flour millers actively engage in an independent monitoring initiative overseen by AHDB3, subjecting wheat samples to residue and mycotoxin analyses. These evaluations consistently indicate exceedingly low pesticide residues and mycotoxin levels in UK milling wheat, consistently falling below Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs). Furthermore, EFSA’s EU-wide monitoring efforts in 2011, 2014, and 2018 revealed infrequent instances of pesticide residues in wheat flour. Collectively, UK millers take charge of regulating pesticide usage before domestic and international sales, employing accredited laboratories and regulated equipment, to ensure their supply falls within EU standards4.
However, what about ingredients that aren’t locally sourced, such as sugar? Whether found in pre-packaged cookies available in supermarkets or obtained from sugar manufacturers, sugarcane typically originates from countries like Brazil and India5. Research indicates that sugarcane frequently contains mycotoxins due to its high sugar content6, and it’s commonly treated with pesticides. As mentioned in previous blogs, the Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) accepted for these substances vary based on the importing country. Nonetheless, driven by rising consumer awareness and increasing EU regulations, global brands like Tate and Lyle7 have meticulously ensured that their sugarcane are sourced from farms adhering to high sustainable and ethical standards. They purchase certified sugarcane for their manufacturing processes, collaborating with farmers registered through organisations like Bonsucro8. These associations offer training to their registered members, guaranteeing quality and meeting certification standards before selling to external entities. Additionally, Tate and Lyle mandate that their suppliers undergo 3-year audits by external assessors to maintain consistent quality standards over time.
While many of us opt for butter in our homemade recipes, UK manufacturers like Burton’s Biscuits, renowned for producing the beloved Maryland Cookies, prefer using palm oil as their primary fat source9. Similar to sugar production, major manufacturers often acquire palm oil from sustainably cultivated sources certified by third-party entities like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). These organisations provide training and assurance to their registered members, ensuring product quality aligns with legal recommendations and maintains high safety standards before being sold to external brands10.
Similar practices apply to the ethical sourcing of cocoa from top exporting countries like Ghana, where entities such as the Rainforest Alliance focus on certifying food safety and quality for supermarket brands like Tesco and Asda’s chocolate products11. Additionally, exporting countries frequently mandate port testing to verify compliance with pesticide and mycotoxin regulations before goods can be transported. For instance, Ghana imposes stringent regulations12 on exports to ensure safety standards, subjecting products to port testing, especially during transportation within the EU to major chocolate producers like Germany5.
When raw ingredients are imported into the UK for use by manufacturers, the responsibility for mycotoxin and pesticide testing rests with DEFRA. However, these assessments are carried out by the Port Health Authorities at the port, who promptly report any food items surpassing accepted Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) 13. Imports identified as posing high risks of pesticide or mycotoxin contamination, or originating from high-risk countries, undergo additional testing. Moreover, such imports often necessitate supplementary documentation verifying compliance, such as a certificate of analysis and health certificate issued by an accredited authority in the country of origin. In regions with lower recorded risks or in food items with minimal contamination, it often becomes the responsibility of the business manufacturer to independently request testing from an accredited laboratory to ensure compliance with the law.
Biorex Food Diagnostics has recognized the growing demand for efficient, precise, and portable testing kits usable at every stage along the food chain. These kits play a crucial role in guaranteeing consumer safety and improving trade prospects for producers dealing with pre-packaged items or raw ingredients.
Stay tuned for our new Flowsense Lateral Flow Devices and Portable Reader arriving in 2024, providing accessible and accurate testing in a wide range of environments.
Have you missed the previous 12 Days of Food Safety? Not to worry. Click the images below to catch up.
- Food Miles Information. Food Miles. https://www.foodmiles.com/ (accessed 20/12/2023).
- Allison’s Flour. Our Flour. https://allinsonflour.co.uk/about/our-flour (accessed 20/12/2023).
- AHDB. AHDB. https://ahdb.org.uk/ (accessed 20/12/2023).
- UK Flour Millers. Pesticide Residues. https://www.ukflourmillers.org/pesticideresidues (accessed 20/12/2023).
- World’s Top Exports. Top Exports by Country. https://www.worldstopexports.com/ (accessed 20/12/2023).
- Abdallah MF, Krska R, Sulyok M. Mycotoxin Contamination in Sugarcane Grass and Juice: First Report on Detection of Multiple Mycotoxins and Exposure Assessment for Aflatoxins B1 and G1 in Humans. National Library of Medicine 2016; 8(343): . https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5127139/ (accessed 20/12/2023).
- Tate and Lyle. Our three-step process for verification and certification. https://www.worldstopexports.com/ (accessed 20/12/2023).
- Bonsucro. What is Certification. https://bonsucro.com/what-is-certification/ (accessed 20/12/2023).
- Burton’s Biscuits. Our products. https://www.burtonsbiscuits.com/our-capabilities/our-products/ (accessed 20/12/2023).
- RSPO. Why Sustainable Palm Oil?. https://rspo.org/why-sustainable-palm-oil/ (accessed 20/12/2023).
- Rainforest Alliance. Ghana resources. https://www.rainforest-alliance.org/country/ghana/ (accessed 20/12/2023).
- ECA-Caobisco-FCC Cocoa. CAOBISCO/ECA/FCC Cocoa Beans: Chocolate and Cocoa Industry Quality Requirements. https://www.cocoaquality.eu/data/Cocoa%20Beans%20Industry%20Quality%20Requirements%20Apr%202016_En.pdf (accessed 20/12/2023).
- Food Standard Agency. Legislation on Imported Foods. https://www.food.gov.uk/business-guidance/pesticides-in-food#legislation (accessed 20/12/2023).