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EXCLUSIVE: Australian supermarkets revealed to be selling dangerous or banned foods

An exclusive and extensive investigation by SBS Radio has revealed banned imported foods are readily available in supermarkets in Australia and yet may be unfit for human consumption.

As part of this investigation, SBS commissioned independent lab testing of a number of imported Indian foods available in Australia.

These are the findings.

Key findings of SBS Investigation
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Listen to the full SBS Radio report here:

Watch the full SBS TV report here:

The SBS Punjabi Radio team sent 18 products purchased at Indian Specialty stores across greater Melbourne to the National Measurement Institute, a food testing lab accredited by the National Association of Testing Authorities.

The tests revealed two instances of products which failed Australian food safety standards and one instance of a completely banned food that is somehow slipping through Australian customs checks on food imports:

In addition to products that failed to meet FSANZ (Food Standards Australia New Zealand) standards, at least three other products were identified that could be considered unsafe. Whilst these products cannot be called non-compliant according to the Australian food standards, experts have raised concerns about them due to the levels of lead, copper and insecticide residues:  

  • Complan - a powdered milk drink for growing children manufactured by Heinz in India
  • Indus Basmati - a rice from Pakistan
  • Verka Ghee - a clarified butter widely used by South Asians in their daily cooking.

Read the detailed findings of SBS’s testing here:
Exclusive: SBS Testing reveals worrying levels of chemicals in foods available for sale in Australia
Worrying and in some cases illegal levels of heavy metals, carcinogenic insecticide and arsenic has been found in multiple foods being imported into Australia as revealed by independent testing commissioned by SBS Punjabi Radio as part of a special investigation into the safety of Australia’s food import industry.

SBS found that such lapses in standards may be the result of systemic failings in product regulation, including:

  • Inadequate or misleading labelling of expiry dates leading to the sale of products well beyond recommended consumption periods. 
  • Products recalled overseas for safety reasons can easily remain on sale in Australia due to issues in regulating parallel imports.
  • Only five per cent of packaged food imports to Australia are tested.
  • Australia’s standards found to be lower than comparable markets – with the USA rejecting many food products that are deemed acceptable for Australian import.
  • Local councils are responsible for enforcement of food safety regulations, and often only take action if a complaint is filed.

 

Red flags are raised
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Last year, SBS's Punjabi program began receiving photos, emails and social-media posts from listeners complaining of foods bought at South Asian grocery stores around Australia.

The foods, they said, were mouldy or smelled foul.

An investigation has now uncovered many anomalies at ethnic grocery stores, from changed "best before" dates on labels to hidden ingredients which could harm people suffering allergies.

"Best before" dates had been changed by months, even years, and unlisted ingredients ranged from milk solids to nuts.

When packaged food is rotten or damaged, a buyer will likely throw it away.

But that, it turns out, is a small part of the problem.

Experts on food standards for imports into Australia indicate the bigger concern is the contamination consumers cannot see, from chemicals and pesticides to heavy metals.

They say globalisation means, despite Australian food-safety standards, some imported products do not necessarily face the same stringent standards in their country of origin.

Migrant communities and speciality food stores who rely on imported goods in particular, are affected by the findings. The issues raised however affect all Australian consumers, who expect to be able to purchase food, safe in the knowledge that it meets Australian safety standards.

See further evidence of putrid foods sent in by SBS Radio audiences below:

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Foods found to breach Australian safety standards
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SBS sent 18 products purchased at Indian specialty stores across greater Melbourne to the National Measurement Institute, a food testing lab accredited by the National Association of Testing Authorities.

The tests revealed two instances of products which failed Australian food safety standards:

Read the full report on the test findings here
Exclusive: SBS Testing reveals worrying levels of chemicals in foods available for sale in Australia
Worrying and in some cases illegal levels of heavy metals, carcinogenic insecticide and arsenic has been found in multiple foods being imported into Australia as revealed by independent testing commissioned by SBS Punjabi Radio as part of a special investigation into the safety of Australia’s food import industry.
 
Foods found to contain worrying levels of chemicals
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Apart from the two foods that failed to meet FSANZ standards, the National Measurement Institute also tested many samples of popular foods. 

Results from three other products concerned Food Safety experts due to levels of lead, copper and insecticide residues.

The three concerning products identified:
  • Complan - a powdered milk drink for growing children manufactured by Heinz in India.
  • Indus basmati - a rice from Pakistan.
  • Verka Ghee - a clarified butter widely used by South Asians in their daily cooking.

Whilst these products comply with Australian standards, experts have raised concerns about them.

Read the full report on the test findings here
Exclusive: SBS Testing reveals worrying levels of chemicals in foods available for sale in Australia
Worrying and in some cases illegal levels of heavy metals, carcinogenic insecticide and arsenic has been found in multiple foods being imported into Australia as revealed by independent testing commissioned by SBS Punjabi Radio as part of a special investigation into the safety of Australia’s food import industry.
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Banned substance Betel Nut available for sale in Australia
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SBS found that drug Betel Nut, a substance banned from sale in Australia, was found to be readily available at South Asian grocery stores in Melbourne.  

Read the full report on the test findings here
Banned substance Betel Nut readily available for sale in Australia
The drug Betel Nut, a substance banned from sale in Australia, was found to be readily available at South Asian grocery stores in Melbourne.
Misleading labelling and parallel imports
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Imported foods past their expiry date, or not intended for sale outside their country of origin have been discovered routinely being sold across Australia.

Read the full story on labelling anomalies and the issue of parallel imports here
Labels reveal foods not intended for sale in Australia are readily available
If you've ever bought a brand name product in Australia that looks familiar yet is labelled in a different language, or 'For sale in…' another country, you could be at risk.
 

Regulatory failings
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To understand how these dangerous products produced overseas are routinely being sold here, SBS investigated how imported foods make their way into the country.

Here are the key findings:

  • Only five per cent of packaged food imports to Australia are tested.
  • Packaged foods not deemed high risk by Australian authorities
  • Different regulatory standards in India, where many food imports are coming from.
  • USA rejects many food products that are deemed acceptable for Australian import.
  • Legal loopholes found in the Australian system.
  • Border control  depends on an "honour system"
  • Local councils are responsible for enforcement of food safety regulations, and often only take action if a complaint is filed.

Read the detailed report on these regulatory failings here
Regulatory failings identified in Australia’s food imports
Why are dangerous products getting past Australia's import and food safety regulators? SBS Punjabi Radio investigates.

Credits
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Investigative journalists: Manpreet Kaur Singh and Shamsher Kainth (SBS Punjabi Radio)

TV Reporter: Luke Waters

Online producers: Genevieve Dwyer and Zoe Sainsbury

Subeditor: Ron Sutton

Production support: Rick Feneley, Shirin Noori

Content Manager: Mark Cummins

Supervising producers: Florencia Melgar and David King