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Vigilance keeps out foreign bugs

PUBLISHED: 14:35 01 August 2001 | UPDATED: 15:16 03 March 2010

SEVERE bouts of sickness and diarrhoea have been avoided thanks to the vigilance of inspectors who have stopped bacteria-infected food entering the country through Felixstowe.

SEVERE bouts of sickness and diarrhoea have been avoided thanks to the vigilance of inspectors who have stopped bacteria-infected food entering the country through Felixstowe.

Staff at the port health department have rejected a number of consignments of ready to eat bean curd because it was feared it would cause food poisoning.

Chinese bean curd is used by many Chinese and Indian restaurants, particularly as an additive to chicken and in soups and sauces.

It is susceptible to bacteria that can cause either severe sickness or diarrhoea.

It is the latest success for the port health inspectors – part of Suffolk Coastal council's environmental health department – who have also been playing a prime role in the battle to keep peanuts infected with high levels of cancer-causing toxin out of the country.

Suffolk County Council trading standards officers have found a quarter of jars of peanut butter they have inspected have been contaminated with aflatoxin. Port health officers have rejected a number of cargoes when they have arrived at the container terminal and are remaining vigilant.

They have also been thoroughly checking consignments of ready to eat bean curd and taking samples for laboratory analysis.

On average, there are eight consignments a month and the majority is being found with the bacillus cereus bacteria in them.

"The bean curd is produced from fermented soya beans which, like rice, are particularly susceptible to this nasty bacteria," said John Ambrose, principal port health officer

"This bacteria can often affect rice and is probably the major cause of food poisoning after eating meals from Chinese or Indian takeaways and restaurants."

This week, 600 cartons imported from the Far East have failed the health checks and have been removed from the food chain.

"Our staff at Felixstowe should be congratulated for their vigilance in spotting and dealing with this problem. Their work is helping to protect the people of this district and the rest of the country by removing a potential source of food poisoning," said Chris Slemmings, chairman of the council's housing and environment committee.

The bacteria cannot be spotted other than by laboratory analysis so there is no way the chef in a kitchen has any way of knowing that the bean curd is infected.

The current problem with ready to eat Chinese bean curd appears to lie solely with quality control problems in the Far East.

Elsewhere high levels of a cancer-causing toxin have been found in one in four peanut butters in a test conducted by Suffolk trading standards officers.

A quarter of a selection of twenty different types of peanut butter were contaminated aflatoxin at levels over the legal limit.

The five contaminated peanut butters had aflatoxin levels ranging from just over the limit at 4.3mg/kg, to four times over the limit at 17.8mg/kg.

Peter Monk, member of Suffolk County Council's executive committee, said: "This is unacceptable. Consumers, government bodies, food experts and manufacturers should be aware of this issue and its implications for health.

"Suffolk County Council's Trading Standards will continue to test food and consumer products for sale on the high street to ensure that they reach the high standards of safety that consumers demand. "As long as we continue to find contamination we will continue to flag up these problems to Government and food experts to take further action."

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