Last updated on 15 March 2002

Your Questions Answered: Nitrofurans in shrimps and prawns

  • What is the problem?

    Test results have been received on warm water prawns and shrimps from SE Asia. The test results revealed that 16 out of the 77 samples of tested positive for illegal and unacceptable residues of nitrofuran drugs. These drugs are no longer permitted in the European Union for use in food producing animals. This is because of concerns including a possible increased risk of cancer in humans through long-term consumption.

    The shrimps and prawns that were found to contain these residues are from Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, India and Bangladesh. Most of the samples with residues were tiger prawns and king prawns and not the cold water types which are used in the UK to make sandwiches and prawn cocktails.

  • What were the results?

    Eleven out of 77 samples of South East Asian origin are confirmed to contain residues nitrofuran drugs.

  • Where were they brought?

    The samples were collected from shops in Northern Ireland. However the batches have been on sale throughout the UK. Full results including brand names are on the Agency's website: www.food.gov.uk.

  • So can I still eat shrimps and prawns?

    The Agency is only advising against eating the affected batches. 61 out of the 77 samples tested negative for nitrofuran residues so the Agency is not advising against the general consumption of warm water prawns and shrimps. As a precautionary measure, any of these batches should be disposed of or returned to the shop where purchased. The companies are co-operating in the withdrawal of affected batches which is now underway throughout the UK.

  • How do I know which batches are affected?

    The FSA has published details of affected batches on its website (www.food.gov.uk). If in doubt over whether a product is from an affected batch, consumers should contact the retailer where it was purchased for further advice. Alternatively, you may wish to contact your Local Authority Environmental Health Department.

  • What is the risk from consuming affected batches?

    These drugs are no longer permitted in the European Union for use in food-producing animals. This is because of concerns including a possible increased risk of cancer in humans through long-term consumption.

    However, as residues are very low, the increased risk is also expected to be very low. Nonetheless, the FSA has issued precautionary advice to protect consumers and tackle the problem. Although the risks from the other residues are less clear, the same precautionary advice applies.

  • What about other foods that contain shrimps and prawns?

    The Agency is not advising against the consumption of all products that contain warm water prawns and shrimps, only those that have been produced using contaminated batches. The samples, which contained nitrofuran residues, warm water shrimps and prawns such as tiger prawns and king prawns are not the cold water types that are commonly used to make sandwiches and prawn cocktails.

  • What are the companies with affected produce being asked to do?

    Nitrofuran residues are illegal and undesirable in these foods. The Agency is therefore calling for the withdrawal of the all batches of South East Asian shrimps and prawns that have tested positive. The companies involved have been informed of the test results. The companies are co-operating in the withdrawal of affected batches which is now underway throughout the UK.

  • How can we be confident they will take the products off the shelves?

    Local authorities are being advised of the results of the tests and the Agency's advice, and are being asked to check the withdrawal of these batches.

  • What other action are you taking to sort out this problem?

    • The retailers and suppliers have been asked to put in place appropriate safety checks to ensure that consumers are protected.
    • The FSA has alerted the EU Commission to these findings who have agreed to consider this issue on an EU wide basis to prevent further contaminated food entering the Community.
    • The FSA will be asking the independent Veterinary Residues Committee to include analyses for nitrofuran residues in the future testing programme for warm water shrimps and prawns.