“Serious concerns” over the health impact of phosphate in kebabs has whetted the EU’s appetite to cut the chemical from frozen mutton, lamb, veal, beef or poultry meat.
This sparked an ominous reaction from Europe’s kebab industry. Kenan Koyuncu of the German association of doner kebab producers told local newspapers the move could be the “death sentence” for the late-night food of choice for thousands of Friday night revellers.
However, Dr Huda Al-Kateb, senior lecturer in food and nutrition sciences at Birmingham City University, disagreed. “I very much doubt any decision will lead to the decline of a British institution,” she said.
Nitrite more ‘dangerous’ than phosphates
“There are attempts in the industry to reduce and replace additives in general, not only phosphates. It is not the most harmful chemical in the food supply, the quantities that are used in food and feed are regulated and, in my work and across industry, regulations are already in place to reduce additives.”
Phosphate is “not the worst ingredient”, Al-Kateb said, adding that the presence of nitrate, nitrite and nitrosamine in meat was “more dangerous to health than phosphates”.
Kebab meat producers use phosphate as a food additive to keep meat juicy and flavoursome. It is also a widely used across the food and drink sector for its ability to regulate acidity and moisture.
But the European Parliament’s health committee wants the use of phosphoric acid, di- and triphosphates and polyphosphates (E 338-452) outlawed.
Those in favour of a ban point to a study from 2012, highlighting the potential link between phosphate additives in food with increased risk of heart attacks. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) – the centralised voice on such issues – said evidence remained inconclusive. Nonetheless, EFSA is set to re-evaluate the safety of phosphate food additives by the end of year.
A vote to ban phosphates in kebab meat will go ahead when the EU Parliament meet in Strasbourg, France, between Monday 11 and Thursday 14 December.