EU DG Health and Food Safety audit in Sweden – Unexpected flaws in microbial safety of food of non-animal origin

Here below the summary of a recent audit of the EU Commission services on the Swedish official control system for food of non animal origin (in particular frozen food and sprouts/seeds for sprouting). Beside the detected shortcomings, is quite unusual to notice that from internal audits from 2014 and from EU Commission audit in 2015, nothing or little improvements have been made.

“This report describes the outcome of a DG Health and Food Safety audit in Sweden which took place from 18 September to 27 September 2018 under the provisions of Regulation (EC) No 882/2004 of the European Parliament and the Council of 29 April 2004.

The objectives of the audit were to assess:

 the system of official controls in the area of food hygiene to prevent microbiological contamination in the production of food of non-animal origin, notably as frozen products and sprouts and seeds intended for sprouting;

 the extent to which the corrective actions submitted to the Commission services in response to the recommendations of the previous Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety audit report of 2015 have been implemented and their effectiveness in addressing the identified shortcomings.

Overall, a risk-based control system for official controls on food of non-animal origin is in place. There is a system for registering primary producers and for the approval of sprout-producing establishments. This facilitates the implementation of a risk-based approach to official controls including microbial risks associated with food of non-animal origin.

Regarding official samples, the appropriate laboratory capability and capacity is available.

Significant shortcomings were identified in relation to the registration of food business operators and approval of sprout-producing establishments. The approval system does not ensure that noncompliances have been rectified before that approval is granted. In addition, the official control system presents a number of gaps, notably related to provision of specific instructions, technical support and staff training. As a result, official controls cannot be implemented correctly and effectively, resulting in poor controls. This impacts on the enforcement, where non-compliances are hardly detected and when detected are rarely followed-up.

A number of these shortcomings were equally reflected in the outcome of an internal audit performed by the Central Competent Authority
in June 2018, and which found little corrective action since the previous internal audit, in 2014.

Thus, non-compliant products might be undetected and the correct application of the relevant legislation might not be enforced, resulting in placing on the market of non-compliant products which may present a health risk.

In respect of the follow-up to the previous audit, certain actions have not been effective in addressing the identified shortcomings. Overall, the audit had to conclude that there has been limited improvement compared to what was found previously.”

(Source: DG Sante website)

EU – Upcoming exemptions for traditional generic descriptors (which could imply an effect on health) from nutrition and health claims Regulation

The objective of the draft Commission Regulation EU providing derogations from Article 1(3) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council on nutrition and health claims made on food for the use of certain generic descriptors – which originally should have been adopted in the third quarter of 2018 – is to provide for a derogation from the provisions of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 on nutrition and health claims for certain generic descriptors traditionally used to designate specific class of foods, which could imply an effect on health but which have traditionally not been used to indicate a health effect and which are not understood by consumers in such manner.

In particular, and for generic descriptors listed in the Annex to the Regulation itself, the Regulation would provide for an exemption from the application of Article 1(3) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 in accordance to which “A trade mark, brand name or fancy name appearing in the labelling, presentation or advertising of a food which may be construed as a nutrition or health claim may be used without undergoing the authorisation procedures provided for in this Regulation, provided that it is accompanied by a related nutrition or health claim in that labelling, presentation or advertising which complies with the provisions of this Regulation.”. These specific generic descriptors would be then exempted from the duty of being accompanied – for their legality – by a related nutrition or health claim compliant with Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006.

In particular and to give an example, as regards specifically Italy and rusk-type bakery products category, the generic descriptor “Biscotto salute” (in EN “Healthy Biscuit”) would be then exempted from the application of the above Article 1(3) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006. What said follows the application – submitted by Monviso S.P.A. pursuant to Article 1(4) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 for the term “biscotto salute” to be used as generic descriptor in Italy and in Malta – provided on April 23rd 2015 by the Italian competent authority to the Commission.

As regard, instead, non-alcoholic carbonated beverage containing the bittering agent quinine in the form of the flavourings FL 14.011, FL 14.152 or 14.155 as referred to in the Union list of flavourings as laid down in Annex I to Regulation (EC) No 1334/2008, the wording “tonica” (used as part of the descriptive name of the beverage) will be exempted from the application of Article 1(3) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006. As a matter of fact on April 2nd 2015, the UK competent authority provided the Commission with an application from the British Soft Drinks Association for the term ‘tonic’ (in English) used as part of the descriptive name of a beverage in the form of ‘tonic water’, ‘Indian tonic water’ or ‘quinine tonic water’ and also substituting the word ‘tonic’ (in English) with ‘tonique’ (in French), ‘tónico’ or ‘tonica’ (in Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese), ‘tονωτικό’ or ‘tonotikó’ (in Greek), ‘tonik’ (in Croatian, Czech, Hungarian, Polish, Slovak and Slovenian), ‘тоник’ (in Bulgarian), to be used as generic descriptor in all Member States except in Romania.

The same for hard and soft sweets based on sugars as well as sugar-free and calorie-reduced variants based on sweeteners (polyols and/or intense sweeteners) containing extracts of herbs, fruit or other plant substances, honey or malt: on November 18th 2015, the German competent authority provided the Commission with three applications from SOLDAN Holding + Bonbonspezialitäten GmbH, Josef Mack GmbH & Co. KG and the Association of the German Confectionery Industry for the terms ‘Hustenbonbon’, ‘Hoestbonbon’, ‘rebucados para a tosse’, and ‘cough drops’, to be used as generic descriptors in Germany and in Austria (‘Hustenbonbon’), in the Netherlands (‘Hoestbonbon’), in Portugal (‘Rebucados para a tosse‘) and in the United Kingdom (‘Cough drops‘).

After a public consultation and the notification to the TRIS system of the EU Commission and to the WTO, the draft received a favorable opinion by the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed – Section: General food law – on 22nd October 2018.

We are not certain about the date of publication yet, but the Regulation will enter into force on the twentieth day following that of its publication in the Official Journal of the European Union.