53 UK Metal Contaminated Food Recalls in 2023

By Paul Fears | 22 January 2024

In 2023, the UK Food Standards Agency issued five (5) alerts relating to 53 separate products regarding metal contamination in food products that had reached the public. This was down from ten (10) in 2022 and the same number as in 2021. The metal-contaminated food products were supplied by leading UK supermarkets, including Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Aldi. The alerts warned consumers not to consume the contaminated food products and to return them.

A strawberry with various pieces of tramp metal sticking out of it.
Metal contaminated food is costly due to recalls and brand image

Metal Contamination Food Alerts in 2023

The specific food alerts were:

Tesco – Metal-contaminated ravioli (January 2023)

Tesco recalled wicked kitchen spinach and wild garlic ravioli due to concerns about metal contamination.

Tesco – Metal and plastic-contaminated chilled pastry products (August 2023)

Tesco recalled four (4) chilled pastry products due to metal and plastic contamination concerns. The products were cheese and onion rolls, finest steak and ale pie, mini pork sausage rolls, and mini sausage rolls.

The Compleat Food Group – Metal and plastic contaminated chilled pastry products (August 2023)

The Compleat Food Group recalled a range of chilled pastry products due to metal and plastic contamination concerns. This affected thirteen (13) products sold by Asda, six (6) products sold by Sainsbury’s, and one (1) product sold by Aldi.

Avoca – Metal-contaminated ready-made meals and soups (August 2023)

Avoca recalled a wide range of ready-made products due to concerns about contamination with small pieces of metal. Twenty-seven products were recalled, including lasagne, banana bread cake, fish pies, and soups.

Refresco Beverages UK Limited – Metal Contaminated Straws (December 2023)

Refresco Beverages UK Limited recalled various juice drinks because the straws may be contaminated with metal, making them unsafe. The drinks included Calypso orange juice, Calypso apple juice, Asda apple and pear juice drink, Asda orange juice from concentrate, Asda 100% pure apple juice from concentrate, Asda Just Essentials orange juice from concentrate, Asda apple and blackcurrant juice drink, Asda apple and mango juice drink.

How Does Metal Contamination Occur?

Food is commonly contaminated with metal during the manufacturing process. Wear and failure of processing equipment can introduce rogue metal items into the process. Unless there is sufficient metal removal and detection equipment in place, the contaminated product will reach the consumer. If such products are consumed, metal contamination can cause mouth and throat lacerations and damage teeth.

Metal Contaminated Products

The metal-contaminated products included pastries, ready meals, soups, and straws. The exact nature and origin of the metal contamination is unknown. However, in all cases, the reputation and product recall costs are substantial.

Removing and Detecting Metal Contamination

Most food processing plants feature systems that remove and identify metal contamination before the product leaves the premises. During manufacturing, magnetic separators attract and securely hold any ferrous metal or magnetically susceptible plastic contamination. Most magnetic separators use ultra-strong rare earth magnets (neodymium or samarium cobalt) to maximise metal capture. 

Although metal detectors feature in the food manufacturing process, they are commonly located before and after packing. The high-sensitivity free-fall and tunnel-type metal detectors locate even the smallest ferrous or non-ferrous metal shards hidden in a food product.

Regular Auditing

The magnetic separators and metal detectors require regular auditing to confirm the performance meets the production requirements. Changes in the process, suppliers, and ingredients can all affect the performance and allow the metal to pass through into the final product.

Bunting engineers regularly conduct in-depth audits, physically checking the magnetic integrity of the magnetic separators and the sensitivity of the metal detectors. Following the onsite audit, a report is produced and forms part of any company’s ongoing process quality improvement plan.

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