The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

The Volcano and Our Food

The Volcano and Our Food

Food Safety Update

April 25, 2010

Now that Chilean exports are slowly getting back on track, food suppliers, farmers and retailers may have another crisis to contend with, and it goes by the name of Eyjafjallajoekull. The Icelandic volcano has been emitting steam and ash since March 20th, disrupting air travel and sending massive plumes of smoke south over Europe and the UK. The volcano could also affect food safety and quality in the coming months.

Already, exports have been negatively affected. Produce traveling to and from Europe has been grounded for weeks. While some items could be frozen, others have perished, resulting in what could be million dollar losses. But this is just part of the problem. Some experts are concerned that there could be contamination risks over the longer term as a result of the presence of significant levels of fluorine in the ash. 

Currently, the EFSA (The European Food Safety Authority) is looking into the effectiveness of mitigation measures, such as washing fruits and vegetables thoroughly that have been exposed to the ash – as was done following the eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington state 30 years ago. Animal health could also be affected by ash exposure. The EFSA plans to deliver a more comprehensive analysis of the volcano’s potential public and animal health risks within one month.

Meanwhile, business in the southern hemisphere is booming, as growers attempt to meet demand from countries that typically receive product from Europe. One New Zealand salmon supplier, New Zealand King Salmon, had to add weekend shifts to keep up with worldwide demand. They recently shipped 200 tons of salmon to restaurants and stores in Japan, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

As for the UK, their Health Protection Agency (HPA) says that the ash is currently not a significant risk to public health. Only those with respiratory problems have been advised to stay inside until the air clears.

Since the eruption, the volcano has cost the airlines an estimated $200 million a day; financial impact on the food industry could also be significant.