All necessary measures have been taken to remove the contaminated Ukrainian sunflower oil imported into Europe in recent weeks from the market, says the European Commission, according to FoodProduction Daily.
Most of the oil, which was contaminated with a lubricant mineral, has been destroyed following a recommendation issued by the Commission before the Labour Day holiday last week, according to the Commission`s press office.
Member States that had received contaminated sunflower oil from Ukraine were advised to withdraw all of the product from the market, including any foods containing more than 10 per cent of the contaminated oil.
Most countries have reported that all product has been withdrawn, said the Commission. Much of the oil had not anyway reached the stage of refining and so did not make it to store shelves.
Spain first alerted the European authorities to the mineral-tainted oil more than a week ago. The contaminated product was shipped into France from Ukraine and distributed to five other EU countries, including England, Italy and the Netherlands.
The oil contained "significant" levels of high viscosity mineral oil but this was judged by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the EU`s food safety watchdog, to be of low toxicity. The EC said it was no longer receiving any sunflower oil from Ukraine which had stopped the exports prior to the contamination becoming public.
In a statement sent to FoodProduction Daily, the European Commission said: "The recommended measures have therefore to be regarded as a precautionary and conservative measure and it must be stressed that the recommended measures concern only sunflower oil and products containing sunflower oil where there is evidence that the sunflower oil originates from Ukraine."
Earlier reports about the contaminated oil, said to have been around 40,000 tons, suggested the contamination to be accidental. The Commission now believes the incident to have been caused by deliberate fraud. Ukraine is currently investigating the incident, it said.
The amount of counterfeit food and drink products seized at the EU`s borders have been decreasing, and were down by 77 per cent in 2006, according to the European Commission, when a total of 1.18 million fake food and beverage products were seized by member states customs officials.
Counterfeiting and tampering can undermine consumer trust in the quality and safety of a branded food product. However SOS Cuetara, the leading Spanish oils refiner, said in a statement that it does not expect its sunflower oil sales to be `significantly` affected.
The company said it has supplied its distributors with its non-Ukraine sunflower oil brand Koipesol, to `guarantee the supply of this product`, according to a report by Thomson Financial.
The group added that its consumers would likely increase their consumption of olive oil in response to the incident, benefiting its olive oil brands.