At the request of the European Commission, the scientific panel on food additives, flavourings, processing aids and materials in contact with food at the European Food Safety Authority carried out a risk assessment on whether gel-forming food additives used in jelly mini-cups could raise concerns for public health.
Their opinion, released in August, is likely to lead to a permanent ban, following on from the already temporary ban in place since April, on the sale of all jelly mini-cups containing certain food additives derived from seaweed and specific gums.
In 2003, the Commission permanently banned food makers from using the food additive E 425 konjac, konjac gum or konjac glucomannan in jelly mini-cups amid fears that children could choke on the sweets. The previous year, Canadian and US authorities reported that children had died from choking on the individually packaged sweets.
"On the basis of the limited information available to the panel on the physicochemical properties of non-konjac gelling agents present in current products, these also give rise to the formation of firm gels that do not solubilise easily and would also be likely to initiate a coughing reaction if they were ingested as a whole and became lodged in the airway in the throat. These products therefore also constitute a risk for choking," said the EFSA panel in a statement.
Their assessment applies to any gel-forming additive whether derived from seaweed (E400, E401, E402, E403, E404, E405, E406, E407, E407a) or from non-seaweed origin (E410, E412, E413, E414, E415, E417, E418) or "of any other type that gave rise to a confectionery product of a similar size, with similar physical and/or physicochemical properties and that could be ingested in the same way as the jelly mini-cups".
But Commission bans do not appear to have impacted the stable jelly confectionery market, suggesting that the jelly mini-cup market is only a fraction of overall jelly and gum sales.
In 2002, the total market for gum and jelly confectionery in the UK came in at about 88,231 tonnes, compared to 2003 figures of 88,250 tonnes. According to the UK's industry body, the Biscuit, Cake Chocolate, Confectionery Alliance (BCCCA), the estimated consumer value for this very stable, even static, market was £366 million (€540) in 2003.
The Food Standards Agency - the UK's food watchdog - told FoodNavigator.com that it had not received any reports of illness from the jelly mini-cup confectionery, although earlier this year, the FSA issued a withdrawal of all such products from the supermarket shelves. "It is difficult to pin down an estimation on the size of the jelly-mini cup market in the UK because there is no formal collation from the local authorities of how many products have been recalled," an FSA spokesperson said. But it was not a leading type of confectionery, he concluded.
Now the Commission has the EFSA opinion in its hands, it is only a matter of time before a decision will be made on whether the temporary ban, issued in April 2004, becomes permanent. A spokesperson for the Commission was unable to give an indication of when a Brussels decision on this issue might occur.