Canned pilchards recall

A canned pilchards recall hit the news recently, as consumers were requested to return cans of pilchards in tomato sauce manufactured by West Point Processors, a Shoprite housebrand supplier. A statement released on 22 February 2020 was issued by Shoprite:

“Shoprite Checkers swiftly reacted to West Point Processors’ recall notice to the retail industry as food safety concerns are taken very seriously in our business. West Point Processors supplies the Saldanha brand to all retailers and food shops in the country and packs the Shoprite Group’s own labels.

We have ensured that no further product possibly affected can be sold in our stores. We urge customers to check their food cupboards and return the recalled product to us for a refund. Please refer to the supplier’s public announcement for further information.”

Tinned or canned foods are an integral ingredient of any food production facility and, while tinned foods are generally considered to be fully sterile after production, there are several factors that can affect the safety of the foods in tins.

The structure of a tin is designed such that the foods held inside are fully separated from the outside environment in all ways, such that there is no opening of any kind from the outside of the tin to the inside.

Through the canning process tins are fully sealed, usually using a double seam seal between the lid and the body of the can or tin.

The manufacturer and food supplier of Shoprite, among other retailers, issued a statement recalling 400g pilchards in tomato sauce products, with the specific batch codes starting with ZST2 and ZSC2.The manufacturer had indicated that the affected brands were Cape Point, Saldanha, Shoprite Ritebrand, Checkers Housebrand, U-brand and OK Housebrand.

“There is a small possibility that some tins may have a canning deficiency which could make the product unfit for consumption. We are working to identify the issue, and ensure that our product meets the high standard our consumers rightly expect from us.” iol

“The supplier is in the process of uplifting isolated cans with the specific batch codes that it recalled, from our stores and distribution centres as well as from competitor retail outlets. We cannot yet provide a date when replacement stock in the affected brands will be available, but there are other brands of pilchards in tomato sauce that are not affected available to our customers.”

According to TimesLiveIt’s not just West Point Processors’ tinned pilchards in tomato sauce that has been recalled, but their pilchards in chilli sauce as well — sold by retailers countrywide under 12 brands, the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS) announced.”

According to Prof Anelich’s article, a number of cans were damaged during the filling process.  The potential damage that occurred in the process are able to cause microscopic holes in the cans, which can hold a potentially serious food safety risk.  Canned pilchards are regarded as low-acid canned goods.  This means that processing is focussed specifically on eliminating the microorganism Clostridium botulinum, which is associated with low-acid canned products if not heat-treated properly.  Prof LE Anelich

The contents inside the canned foods are in an environment that is under a constant vacuum and anaerobic (no oxygen) conditions.

The insides of the can body and lids are lined with an inert layer, mostly a plastic lacquer layer, to keep the contents separate from the metal that the tin is made of.

Depending on various chemical characteristics of the food product, the foods are heated at different temperatures to obtain full sterility (no living bacteria at all). The heating is normally done in pressurised vessels, filled with water, called autoclaves so as to obtain heating temperatures above 100°C. Most foods are heated to above 121°C to ensure all bacteria are killed regardless of what growth or survival phase they may be in.

“The problem manifests itself after months of storage, which causes the content of the can to react with the metal of the can,” the NRCS said. The regulator made no mention of bloating tins, in which botulism would be of concern.

All of these production parameters result in tinned foods being highly shelf stable for extended periods of time and thus make tins an excellent means of storing bulk foods without the need for refrigeration.

HOWEVER, if any one of these parameters is not met during production or are compromised after production then the integrity of the tin and thus the food inside is also compromised.

This recall forms part of the Food Safety Management System, which aids in the prevention of potential food poisoning cases. Consumers are urged to take note of the batch codes before consuming.

What are Clostridium botulinum bacteria?

Clostridium botulinum are bacteria that grow in food and produce toxins that, when ingested, cause paralysis. These bacteria are anaerobic organisms. Meaning that they grow and survive in conditions without oxygen. This bacteria forms spores that allow it to survive in harsh conditions.
 Botulism poisoning is rare but so dangerous that each case is considered a public health risk. Most of the botulism cases reported each year come from foods that are not canned properly at home. However, it can happen commercially when cans are dented or damaged.
Always discard damaged tins, even minor punctures unseen by the naked eye. These can allow Clostridium to enter and contaminate the foods.

What is Botulism?

Botulism is a paralysing disease affecting the body’s nervous system. This is caused by the ingestion of one of the potent neurotoxins produced by C. botulinum bacteriaThis neurotoxin is among the most toxic substances known even microscopic amounts can cause illness. (USDA)
Symptoms of botulism usually appear within 12 to 36 hours after eating food containing the neurotoxin. Although there have been documented cases that ranged from 4 hours to 8 days. The earlier the symptoms appear, the more serious the disease. Treatment requires quick medical attention and an antitoxin. (USDA) If untreated, paralysis will set in. Without treatment, the breathing muscles will eventually become paralyzed, resulting in respiratory failure and death.

What is the Best Way to Prevent Botulism?

  • Use approved heat processes for commercially and home-canned foods (i.e., pressure-can low-acid foods such as corn or green beans, meat, or poultry).
  • Discard all swollen, gassy, or spoiled canned foods. Double bag the cans or jars with plastic bags that are tightly closed. Then place the bags in a trash receptacle for non-recyclable trash outside the home. Keep it out of the reach of humans and pets.
  • Do not taste or eat foods from containers that are leaking, have bulges or are swollen, look damaged or cracked, or seem abnormal in appearance. Do not use products that spurt liquid or foam when the container is opened.
  • Refrigerate all leftovers and cooked foods within 2 hours after cooking.
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ADRIAN CARTER

Hygiene Survey Manager