The Ministry of Primary Industries is investigating the suspected use of sulphites in meat by a small number of independent butcheries and groceries in the Auckland area.
The investigation led TVNZ’s news a few days ago and MPI is concerned it may have unnecessarily caused consumers concern that there is some food safety risk associated with fresh meat.
But the Ministry said its investigation to date has found no widespread problem with the use of preservatives in fresh red meat.
“The use of sulphites to prolong the shelf life of fresh meat and freshen up the appearance of greying meat is something that appears to be being undertaken by a small group of “rogue” operators and not mainstream meat suppliers. We targeted these butcheries and grocery stores for further investigation based on our own intelligence gathering.
“We are confident, through conducting our regular food safety compliance activity, that larger retailers including New Zealand’s supermarket chains and reputable, New Zealand-qualified butchers are well aware of the rules and will not be carrying out this practice,” Ministry for Primary Industries Director Animal, and Animal Products, Matthew Stone says.
“MPI will not tolerate flouting of the rules that are in place to ensure New Zealand’s food is safe. The Ministry has a range of legal options at its disposal where evidence is present that this law-breaking is taking place.”
Mr Stone also points out that the issue concerns the handling and retailing of meat in New Zealand domestically and that this is not an issue concerning export meat.
“Consumers need to have confidence, particularly if they are in the small group that have allergies to sulphites, that fresh meat will not have this additive in it.”
Sulphites such as sulphur dioxide are food additives used in a range of foods around the world. In New Zealand its use is controlled by regulation and must be reflected in labelling, which MPI also monitors.
Mr Stone says some initial sampling of fresh meat from 10 Auckland butcheries and grocery stores found the presence of sulphite which is a preservative allowed in processed meat goods (and a range of other foodstuffs) but is not allowed to be added to fresh meat.
He says for this reason, MPI recently carried out sampling of fresh red meat (a range of cuts including mince) from another 27 premises in Auckland.
“We expect to know in a couple of weeks what the true situation is out there. But we need to be clear that the evidence shows that the use of sulphite in fresh meat is not a widespread problem.
“There can be serious consequences for those who break 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. . .
This is a serious issue but it is not a widespread problem.