Half of the 42 meat processing companies inspected – mainly butchers’ shops that were known to have purchased sulphite from a supplier of additives – were found to have added sulphites to meat by the NVWA.
It carried out a risk-oriented campaign at the meat processing companies, checking the use of the additive sulphite in ground beef, hamburgers, sausages, tartar, poulet and other meat preparations.
The NVWA selected the butchers shops’ on the basis of customer lists that it requested from companies that trade in sulphites. Six butchers admitted immediately at the inspection that they were using sulphite.
A total of 134 samples were taken from ground beef and minced meat preparations at the 42 companies. The presence of sulphite was found in 52 of the samples taken from 21 separate companies. Levels up to 4,000 mg per kg of sulphite were found.
Sulphite is one of the 14 allergens that, according to the labelling rules, must be clearly stated if they have been added to a food (with more than 10 mg per 100 grams). According to the NVWA, no company that used sulphite provided this information to the consumer. Consumers who are hypersensitive to sulphite can have mild but also severe reactions, such as heart palpitations and skin rashes, if they eat foods with added sulphite.
Sulphite can be used to help colour the meat red, but may not be added to meat according to Dutch additives legislation.
All of the companies found to be using sulphite in meat received fines, both for the illegal use of sulphite and for not mentioning an allergenic substance. The meat for which it was already clear during the inspection that sulphite had been added to it was immediately withdrawn from sale and may only be used as an animal by-product.
The NVWA urged the trade association Koninklijke Slagers Nederland (KNS) and the Vereniging van Keurslagers to remind its members about the unauthorised use of sulphite.