PRODUCTS CONTAINING the banned toxic additive Sudan 1 were left on campus Costcutter shelves over a week after the government released warnings about the carcinogenic dye.
The store risked prosecution when students bought the snack foods after a deadline for all shops to remove contaminated foods.
Two pot noodle flavours, The Sizzler Bacon and Beef and Tomato issued on the ‘infected’ list on 18th February were still available for sale at the Market Square Costcutter nine days after the list was issued, and three days after the deadline.
Walkers Worcester Sauce flavoured crisps remained on the shelves of the Halifax Costcutter until the 2nd March. These were only removed after persistent requests from nouse.
Sheila Clifford, a spokesperson for Commercial Services, when informed of the crisis, conferred with a member of staff at the Halifax branch. She stressed that they were very busy, but that, “the lady I’ve just spoken to told me that she queried it with Kay, the Manager, but she was assured that the ones that are there are of the correct date.”
Addressing concerns that nouse had found the illegal crisps on sale that day, she confirmed that “we’ll investigate and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.”
The following day Jon Greenwood, Retail Manager for the University, admitted that there had been a mix up and that the Halifax Costcutter hadn’t got the second list of dangerous products from their supplier, Nisa. “Both stores got the first hit, but unfortunately only Market Square then got the second paper, which then included the crisps. So our assumption was that both supermarkets had got both lists.”
Greenwood confirmed that the crisps had finally been taken off the shelves, a problem that had only been highlighted by our investigation. “Until I got your letter I knew nothing about it, but I like to know what’s afoot in these places. “I knew about the scare, and I’d seen that the information had actually gone out. I assumed that it had been followed. I didn’t realise there were two hits of the information, and that they found it was contained in another product later.”
At the Market Square branch the crisps were removed on the day of the deadline, but only after concerns were raised by a second year student, Elise Toogood. “I went to buy a packet of crisps on the Tuesday and saw to my surprise that Market Square Costcutters still had their Walkers Worcestershire Sauce crisps, checking the date I saw the best before date was April 05, which was a month within the infected dates given by the news.
“Knowing that legally they had until the end of Thursday to take them off the shelves I didn’t say anything but thought it was quite poor of a chain company to be leaving it till the last minute.
Toogood went back on Thursday, but found the crisps were still on sale. She raised the issue with a member of staff, who despite being initially dismissive, was convinced by the student to take the products off the shelf, commenting, “well I suppose it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
However, the Pot Noodles, which the student hadn’t noticed were not taken off the shelves. These products were still on sale on the 27th February at Market Square Costcutter.
In response to these findings the Deputy Manager of Costcutters denied that the products were still on the shelves by that date, “No, they weren’t. Definitely, definitely not, because I was here and I took them off with the warehouse man.”
In the face of receipt evidence from nouse that the products were still available until the Sunday, she was willing to admit that she was not sure what day the products were removed from sale.
Rachel Lambley, a York Council Environmental Health Officer, raised concerns over how these Sudan-1 problems were actioned, “We’ve mailshot all premises in our area, they should have got the list last week, and we would expect them to take it off as soon as they become aware of anything that’s got the dye in it.”
The controversy surrounding Sudan-1 began several years ago. A government spokesperson stated that “since July 2003 all Chilli powder imported into the UK has to be certified free of Sudan 1.” “However, this batch predates this sampling programme and was uncovered after sampling of Worcester sauce produced by Premier Foods and exported to Italy.”
David Statham, Director of Enforcement at the Food Standards Agency, said “This has been an enormous undertaking. Hundreds of products have been affected in thousands of shops. The vast majority of contaminated foods has now been removed and that provides some reassurances to consumers.”
Commenting on retailers who were failing to meet their legal obligations, Statham stressed, “the risk to health is small, and it is sensible not to eat these foods, but there can be no doubt that consumers should not have been exposed to these contaminated products.”
“We have worked hard to ensure that good companies meet their responsibilities to consumers. Local authorities will check what actions have been taken. We will also work with them in considering what enforcement action may be appropriate following these investigations.”
Reflecting on the controversy, the student who had noticed that the crisps were still on sale in Market Square said, “it’s unbelievable that the two university stores didn’t communicate with each other, and that the Halifax one still had the crisps out on sale.”
“It makes you wonder what other products on the list Costcutter have failed to take note of.”