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Mustard - a hot topic


There have been increasing customer enquiries about mustard presence in wheat.


These follow reports from Italy of widespread contamination of the common wheat and durum wheat crop, which led to some reports that this was somehow a global issue affecting the 2021 wheat harvest.

Reports that some Italian food businesses were adding mustard ‘may contain’ labelling to wheat-based products added to customer concerns.


In response, the secretariat commissioned testing of UK flour samples for the presence of mustard and held discussions with farmers and agronomists to understand the risk of adventitious mustard presence in wheat.


The testing found no samples reliably contained mustard. Although a very small proportion of samples were initially found to contain mustard DNA, follow-up testing at a range of laboratories found no mustard DNA, raising further questions around the reliability of mustard testing.


The discussions with farmers and agronomists confirmed there does not appear to be a credible route of mustard contamination of wheat.


Using these findings, UKFM produced a position statement setting out that mustard ‘may contain’ labelling was not appropriate for flour or flour-based goods on the basis of available evidence.


This was shared with members and the FSA. Following this, the FSA produced an update on the issue, setting out their view that the Italian food safety authority position on mustard was precautionary and highlighting that no food safety alerts or adverse consumer reactions had been reported.


The secretariat also presented the findings of the testing to the BRC Technical Working Group, and it is understood this reassured BRC members on the issue of mustard in wheat flour.


By and large, BRC members do not support the use of mustard ‘may contain’ labels on flour or flour-based products, on the basis of current evidence.


This is not to say the issue is over. The secretariat is eagerly awaiting the results of the Italian food safety authority’s review of commercially available mustard allergen test kits, which could help determine if there is an appropriate kit for testing wheat and wheat-based products.


Additionally, it is clear there are many unanswered questions around mustard, for example there are claims by some regulators that oilseed rape protein, common in wheat admixture, could trigger allergic reactions in those with a mustard allergy. This is an issue across Europe and UKFM will lobby for relevant research to be carried out, so that food safety policy in relation to mustard allergens can be based on strong evidence.

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