Hungarian food retailers withdraw paprika products

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This week, Hungary ordered food retailers to withdraw all products containing paprika from their shelves. The measure was taken when checks found some of the red spice stored in warehouses contained high levels of a toxic substance found only in the tropics - suggesting that producers illegally mixed imported and local products. The health minister says it is unlikely any of the tainted Paprika has made it to supermarket shelves and that the toxin would only have an adverse effect if large quantities of tainted Paprika were eaten.

We spoke to Dr Laszlo Vajda from the Hungarian Agriculture Ministry and asked him to explain:

"I think there is a slight misunderstanding about the issue. What really happened is that in some species of paprika which were in the shops, a control has identified that they contain a very very low level of Afloxin, but such a level that can be a risk for the health of consumers. Therefore the government is taking very seriously the issue of food safety and public health and decided to withdraw all paprika products from shops in Hungary for a piece by piece check-up. Only then can they go back to the shops and into the restaurants and to the table of the consumers.

"So, the aim was to eliminate even the minimal risk. According to the investigation so far, this risk was created by imported paprika which was unfortunately mixed with the Hungarian paprika. I think it does not reduce the quality of the Hungarian paprika and these products can further more be regarded as an outstanding product of Hungarian soil and of Hungarian agriculture and of Hungarian kitchen."

Paprika has been declared the "Hungaricum". Do you think this will cause damage to the fame and the prestige of this food item?

"No, I hope very much that it will not cause any damage. But it has a lesson for all of us - we have to make even stricter controls than earlier, to maintain the quality and to maintain the image of this product."

This imported paprika comes from Latin America from tropical countries. Is it possible that other countries all over the world also use this, could I say, infected paprika?

"Yes, other countries are importing paprika from that region. But I think that even in the case of South American paprika it not always contains this afloxin by this product. My information is that this low afloxin contact has developed during the transport of the products and quite probably there was enough for the appropriate packaging during the transport and that's why this lot of paprika had this contamination but I wouldn't say that this is general for all paprika imported from that region - not at all."