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)

FVO report – India – Microbiological contamination in seeds for human consumption

This report describes the outcome of an audit carried out by the Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) in India from 9 to 17 December 2014. The objectives of the audit were to evaluate the control systems in place to control microbiological contamination in seeds for human consumption (in particular Salmonella contamination of sesame seeds as well as seeds for sprouting e.g mung beans and other seeds for sprouting) intended for export to the European Union (EU) in the framework of Regulations (EC) No 178/2002 and No 852/2004. The evaluation of procedures in place for certification for imports into the EU of seeds for the production of sprouts as required by Regulation (EU) No 211/2013 was also assessed.

This FVO audit to India on the microbiological controls of sesame seeds was undertaken as part of the 2014 FVO audit programme due to the number of Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) notifications linked to this issue.

There is no requirement for exporters of sesame seeds to the EU to be registered with the Shellac and Forest Products Export Promotion Council (SHEFEXIL), the competent authority responsible for sesame seeds. A number of exporters who were mentioned in RASFF notifications were not members of SHEFEXIL and could not be followed up by SHEFEXIL.

A number of consignments that were tested and found to be Salmonella and E. coli free prior to shipment from India were found to be Salmonella positive in the EU.

Overall, there are a number of significant gaps in existence which cannot assure that sesame seeds exported to the EU are safe. The CA responsible for sesame seeds, SHEFEXIL, does not carry out any controls on growers, processors or exporters of sesame seed. In addition, there is a failure to follow up RASFF notifications relating to sesame seeds in India. This is mainly due to a lack of coordination between the Ministry of Commerce and Industry which is the national contact point for RASFF in India and SHEFEXIL, which is responsible for following up on RASFF notifications relating to sesame seeds. Laboratories visited were capable of undertaking the relevant testing for Salmonella detection. However, the approach to sampling of consignments for microbiological testing prior to export could not ensure statistical representativeness.

The Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) confirmed that they are the CA for sprouted seeds and seeds for sprouting. APEDA is aware of the certification requirements for imports into the EU of sprouts and seeds intended for the production of sprouts as required by Regulation (EU) No 211/2013. APEDA has received no requests from exporters for such certification to date, thus no certificates have been issued.