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Why are certain foods in Norway being pulled from shelves? 

A number of foods, from ice cream to liver pâté and sardines in Norway, are being recalled because they contain a banned toxic substance.

Why are certain foods in Norway being pulled from shelves? 
You can check out the list of products that are being recalled. Photo by Mehrad Vosoughi on Unsplash

What’s happened? 

The Norwegian Food Safety Authority has recalled several everyday food items in Norway because they contain the illegal, carcinogenic and toxic pesticide ethylene oxide. 

Ethylene oxide is a strong disinfectant used to remove bacteria from products during cultivation.

The substance has been found in products containing the additive locust bean gum. 

Locust bean gum, the additive that has become contaminated, does not typically contain the banned pesticide and is a taste-neutral, gluten-free additive used to bind products and make them thicker. 

The batches of the additive containing ethylene oxide have probably come from Turkey, the Norwegian Food Safety Authority has said.

Why have the products been pulled? 

The products have been pulled because ethylene oxide is banned for use in food products in the EU and European Economic Area, or EEA, (EU countries plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein). As Norway is a member of the EEA, the products have been recalled. 

Which foods have been withdrawn?

Some of the foods that have been withdrawn from sale include J&M and coop bearnaise sauce, Twix and Snickers ice cream, El Dorado potato gratin, King Oscar sardines, various noodle products and pâté products from Orkla foods. You can take a look at the complete list of products here.

“It is a relatively large amount of products, as this additive is included in everyday foods,” Vigdis Jenderå, a Norwegian Food Safety Authority senior inspector, told state broadcaster NRK

The Norwegian Food Safety Authority said it is unsure how long products contaminated with ethylene oxide have been on Norwegian shelves. 

READ ALSO: Five Norwegian foods that aren’t as bad as they sound… and one that is

How dangerous is this? 

Being carcinogenic, the intake of ethylene oxide increases the risk of developing cancer over time. 

“Ethylene oxide can damage DNA, i.e. genes and genetic material, and is carcinogenic. In addition, the intake of the drug can over time increase the risk of developing cancer,” Helle Katrine Knutsen, senior researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, explained to NRK. 

However, the risk of developing cancer due to consuming products contaminated with the pesticide in Norway is assumed to be extremely low. 

“The intake here can be assumed to be short-lived. Therefore, a possible increase in cancer risk as a result of this can be assumed to be low but cannot be quantified,” Knutsen said. 

In addition, despite being toxic, ethylene oxide is not acutely so. In practice, this means that if you were to consume the contaminated products unknowingly, it wouldn’t pose a health risk in the short term. 

Has this happened before? 

This isn’t the first time that the carcinogenic substance has been found in Norwegian foods. 

Last year, there was a significant withdrawal of products that contained sesame seeds from India which had been sprayed with the pesticide. 

This lead to tighter rules on the importation of sesame seeds into the EU and EEA. 

The Norwegian Food Safety Authority said that the increased use of ethylene oxide in farming is becoming a concern. 

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FOOD & DRINK

The traditional Norwegian Christmas delicacies you should know about

Some of the most popular delicacies and foods served in Norway during the holidays will have you heading back for seconds. 

Pictured is a table set for Christmas.
Here's everything you need to know about Norway's Christmas foods. Pictured is a table set for Christmas. Photo by Anthony Cantin on Unsplash

 Pinnekjøtt

Pinnekjøtt (or ‘stick meat’) is a Norwegian favourite for families to enjoy on the juleaften (the evening of the 24th of December). A helpful hint, if you know you’re going to be eating pinnekjøtt for dinner in the evening, drink plenty of water throughout the day. The heavily salted lamb meat that is dried and then cooked again by being mounted on sticks in a bath of hot water is perhaps the saltiest tasting food in all Norwegian cuisine. 

Ribbe 

Ribbe, or “pork belly”, is often characterized by its rind. The crispier and crunchier the better. If you’re not hearing a local raving over how delightful pinnekjøtt is to eat on Christmas, it’s likely because they are raving over how delicious ribbe is. These two Christmas meals are arguably the most popular and often go head to head. 

It may sound like an odd question to pose, but it is completely normal to ask a Norwegian co-worker or friend if they are team pinnekjøtt or team ribbe. You’ll likely be asked as well. So get a taste of both so you can pick your side and join in on the light-hearted battle. 

Medisterkaker

Medisterkaker can be the star of your dinner plate or work well as a side dish. The recipes vary. Though traditionally, this hearty pork-based dish (typically in the shape of slightly flattened meatballs) is made with at least 25 percent pork fat. What makes them so Christmasy is the festive spice blend of added ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and pepper. 

Kokt torsk 

Kokt torsk or “boiled cod” is a traditional Christmas meal for households situated along the coastline. A firm line has been drawn between lovers and haters of kokt torsk. You’ll find very few Norwegians who claim this is their favourite Christmas meal. If you do find someone, the odds are that they grew up near the coastline, especially in the south of Norway. Traditionally, the mild-tasting fish is served with a clear butter sauce and boiled potatoes. 

Lutefisk 

Lutefisk or  “Cod fish” is fisk preserved in “lye” or lut.  The dish that can best be described as fishy in its taste and odour is considered a traditional holiday dish. However, you’ll likely meet less than a handful of Norwegians that incorporate this meal into their Christmas dinner lineup. Instead, lutefisk is more popular with the older Scandinavians who immigrated to the United States. In fact, more lutefisk is consumed annually in the state of Minnesota than in Norway. 

Pepperkake everywhere

During the month of December, you’ll likely spot pepperkake everywhere! The crispy gingerbread cookie is available to grab on shop counters, passed out as gifts, and used to decorate windows. You can make your own. Though typically, it’s the store-bought versions that litter all offices and parities. Some Norwegians claim pepperkake is the ultimate taste of Christmas. But since it is so easy to find and eat often, many locals are relieved when pepperkake takes an 11-month hiatus after the new year. 

What about the sides? 

If you find yourself more excited by the sides of your main dish rather than the main protein, you might be disappointed during Christmas dinner. Norwegian Christmas side dishes are typically not the stars of the meal. In fact, one can go so far as to call them bland. You can expect peeled and boiled potatoes, boxed sauerkraut, spoonfuls of tyttebær sauce or “lingonberry” sauce, and more boiled potatoes. But that’s ok. Many find they are a nice equalizer next to the traditional Christmas foods that are fatty, salty, and have very distinct tastes.

On the beverage table

Aquavit – Aquavit is a Nordic favourite. The slightly spicy tasting spirit is distilled from grain and potatoes. Sipping on the strong liquid during Christmas dinner is a wonderful way to clear the palette from the extra fat and salt the meal contains. 

Gløgg – Gløgg, Norway’s take on mulled wine, is served both as an alcoholic cocktail and a non-alcoholic beverage. The warm drink is slightly spicy in taste. And the aroma that exudes from the kitchen while gløgg is being heated up on the stove could melt even Scrooge’s heart. 

Juleøl – Juleøl, or “Christmas beer”, is typically darker and fuller in taste than this pilsner loving country is used to drinking. As a result, you will find that the beer aisle has been taken over with famous nordic beer brands, such as Hansa and Ringnes, and their Christmas beers around the holidays. 

Don’t forget to hunt for the almond

If you’re celebrating in a more traditional Norwegian household, you’ll likely find a cake in the spectacular shape of a small tower on the dessert table. This is Kransekake, and it is a traditional dessert both in Denmark and Norway. Kransekake is typically served on special occasions. Weddings, the 17th of May, and yes, Christmas. In addition to seeing kransekake served in all its glory as a towering cake, you can also find smaller bites of kransekake sold in the shops and bakeries during the holidays. 

Kransekake aside, perhaps the most popular dessert served after Christmas dinner is riskremRiskrem or “rice porridge” is a creamy dessert served cold with a fruit-based coulis drizzled on top. What makes this dessert extra fun is the game traditionally played with it. A shaved almond is often hidden in the serving bowl filled with riskrem. And whoever discovers the almond in their bowl receives a traditional pig made out of marzipan as their prize.  

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