High mercury in fish is main food safety hazard
A high concentration of mercury was reported in fish, particularly swordfish, making it Malta’s biggest food health hazard last year, according to an EU report.
Although mercury is found in almost all fish and shellfish, high concentrations are normally associated with sea pollution.
Malta last year filed 27 notifications related to possible health hazards during market surveillance, according to the annual report of the EU’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF).
High concentration of mercury, which is particularly dangerous for pregnant women, was the main hazard, followed by taste disturbance in imported nuts and seeds, plastic fragments found in prepared dishes and snacks and larvae infestations in cereals and bakery products.
Although Malta filed more than twice as many notifications in 2011 compared to 2010, a spokesman for the Food Safety Commission, responsible for inspecting food products placed on the Maltese market, said there was no cause for panic.
“There is absolutely no reason for any alarm and the food we consume is generally safe. Although it is true that in 2011 we had many more notifications than the norm, there is no specific reason for this. In some other years, notifications were even higher,” the spokesman said.
Asked whether the high mercury levels in swordfish was worrying, sources close to the Fisheries Department played down the issue: “It is not rare that certain species of fish that are long-lived and high on the food chain, such as tuna and swordfish, contain higher concentrations of mercury than others.”
Although it was correct to state that pollution was increasing in the Mediterranean basin, incidents were still rare, the sources said.
According to the RASFF report, more than 9,000 notifications related to non-compliance with EU-food legislation were reported in the EU last year.
China was the main source of contaminated food and feed, followed by India and Turkey.
Some of the most reported issues were connected with migration of chemical substances from kitchen utensils made in China.
The EU has the toughest food safety regulations in the world.