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)

Xylella fastidiosa- France control system not better than Italian one

This report describes the outcome of an audit carried out by the Directorate General Health and Food Safety of the European Commission in France from 3 to 12 February 2016. The objective of the audit was to evaluate the plant health situation and control measures applied for Xylella fastidiosa in the two regions of France where there are outbreaks of the bacterium.

In 2015 France carried out a comprehensive and risk based Xylella fastidiosa survey at country level and ran an intensified awareness raising campaign. The high level of alert and awareness promoted by the French authorities ensured the prompt finding and identification of the outbreaks.

Measures were implemented quickly within and outside the demarcated areas. Additional human and financial resources were mobilised, a network for large-scale sampling and laboratory testing was established and the relevant stakeholders were sufficiently informed and involved.

The demarcation, insect vector treatment, removal and destruction of host and symptomatic plants within the 100m radius of the infected plants were carried out fully in line with the provisions of Commission Decision 2015/789/EU.

However, the intensity of the surveys carried out within the buffer zones is significantly lower than that required by Commission Decision 2015/789/EU. Sampling and testing of specified plants within a radius of 100m around the plants confirmed to be infected is also not in line with the Decision. This does not allow the accurate determination of the spread of Xylella fastidiosa. In the case of outbreaks where the eradication work was completed, the sites were not revisited to remove newly identified host plants which could be infected.

Nurseries located in demarcated areas are allowed to move specified plants outside those areas without fulfilling all requirements of the Decision. It increases the risk of the movement of the pathogen to new areas.

Due to the number of recent outbreaks and the size of the demarcated area the French authorities were still implementing a large part of the measures at the time of the audit.

France has taken a number of measures showing its commitment to eradicating Xylella fastidiosa. However, the non-compliances detected reduce the efficiency and effectiveness of the eradication efforts. The risk of spread with human assistance is mitigated to some extent by that all outbreaks of Xylella fastidiosa to date have been recorded in areas with no large-scale production of plants for planting of the major hosts. The eradication efforts are further compromised by the high number of outbreaks and level of spread, particularly in Corsica. This is compounded by the multitude of identified host plants, the inaccessibility of risky areas and by uncertainties about hosts and the mode of transmission.