The Food Standards Agency is calling for a ban on pistachio nuts imported from Iran following a survey which found high levels of cancer-causing mycotoxins in 10% of pistachio samples.

The offending products have been removed from sale and the FSA wants the European Commission to consider re-instating a 1997 ban on Iranian pistachios.

The FSA has also warned two peanut butter retailers that levels of mycotoxins found in some of their products were too high – although not an immediate threat to health.  The FSA says extra vigilance is needed to ensure levels of mycotoxins in peanut butter are kept below the regulatory limit.

Pistachio products with high levels of mycotoxins in the most recent survey have been removed from sale. In the vast majority of all the samples however the levels found were low. The consumption of a very small amount of a mycotoxin on a single occasion is unlikely to cause any ill effects. The FSA is therefore re-stating its advice to consumers and there is no need for anyone to avoid eating these products.

The survey, and a follow-up survey, of nuts, nut products and dried tree fruit looked at 227 product samples and was most concerned with assessing levels of a number of mycotoxins including the most toxic, Aflatoxin B1.

The pistachios found with levels of B1 over the regulatory limit in the follow-up survey were Balham Wholefoods raw pistachios, Natco Pistachio Kernels, and Rainbow Wholefoods Roasted and Salted Pistachios.

The FSA requested that the affected pistachios were withdrawn and recalled. The European Commission (EC) issued Rapid Alert warnings across the EU. Despite a temporary suspension of Iranian imports in 1997 and a more rigorous testing regime, all of the samples over the limits in the survey were imported from Iran.  The EC’s figures from the Rapid Alert System for Food show that, in 2001, 67 alerts were issued for Iranian pistachios, 36% of the total alerts on mycotoxins.

In a letter the FSA has therefore asked the European Commission to consider re-imposing the temporary suspension of imports of pistachios from Iran.

As regards peanut butter the FSA is to meet the manufacturers. The FSA wants to make sure that the industry’s quality control and quality assurance regimes are adequate to ensure that mycotoxin levels are kept to a minimum.  The FSA will also be meeting enforcement authorities – including local councils – to urge them to carry out more checks on peanut butters.