The European Commission has implemented maximum levels on three additives – ascorbic acid, sodium ascorbate and calcium ascorbate – in tuna to tackle food fraud.
Excessive levels of these additives can expose consumers to the risk of histamine, also known as scombroid, poisoning.
There was no maximum level previously listed and the additives were used as part of good manufacturing practice, at a level no higher than needed to achieve the intended purpose and providing the consumer was not misled. However, following food fraud investigations, the national authorities have reported cases where tuna loins sold as fresh contained the additives in higher amounts that what was considered necessary to achieve the typical antioxidant effect on fresh tuna. Officials are suspicious of the additives being used on tuna for canning to restore the colour that is lost during the process as well as fish places on the market as fresh.
Using the additive in high amounts artificially restores the colour of the fish, making it look fresh and therefore providing the opportunity to market the tuna for canning as fresh, offering it at a higher price point, misleading the consumer and exposing them to the risk of the histamine.
Counties, led by Spain, asked the commission to set a maximum limit for the food additives as antioxidants in thawed tuna sold as fresh (unprocessed) or marinated tuna (processed).
A maximum level of 300 milligrams per kilogram was put forward, which is the highest amount reported by industry in a previous European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) opinion.
The new level aims to ensure that there will still be room for legitimate use, when following good manufacturing practices.
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