Brussels warns against the illegal treatment of tuna with vegetable extracts

Published on
November 9, 2016

The use of cultivated vegetable extracts containing high concentrations of nitrates and nitrites to enhance the color and appearance of tuna products are not permitted in the European Union, the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety has reminded the seafood industry.

In a new advisory, Philippe Loopuyt, head of the unit, stressed that nitrites are not authorized for use in tuna, while the addition of nitrites via vegetable extract does not comply with the specifications for nitrites laid down in Commission Regulation (EU) No 231/2012.

He said the Commission considers this issue a “high priority” and confirmed that it had already raised the awareness of member states' competent authorities to this alarming practice. He also urged the supply chain to take action to put a stop to these activities “in order to avoid a new major food fraud crisis.”

The use of nitrites not only deceives costumers regarding the tuna's color but also masks the amounts of histamines present in the product. The products look fresh and of high quality but in reality may contain high amounts of histamines, which can cause strong allergenic reactions, said Loopuyt.

Financial gain is clearly the motive, given that it is estimated that 5 million tuna portions per week are treated this way, equating to approximately 500 metric tons (MT) and involving a potential gain of approximately EUR 200 million (USD 221.4 million) per year, he added.

The DG highlighted that the fish industry, in its commitment to the fight against food fraud, had reported these practices to the Commission.

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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