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)

Bulgaria – Organic control system flawed

This report describes the outcome of a DG Health and Food Safety audit in Bulgaria, carried out between 16 November 2015 and 27 November 2015, under the provisions of Regulation (EC) No 882/2004 on official food and feed controls.

The objective of the audit was to evaluate the controls on organic production and labelling of organic products.

The report concludes that the control system in place in Bulgaria cannot provide assurance as regards compliance of the operators with the organic production rules. The supervision carried out by the Competent Authority failed to identify the systematic shortcomings in the performance of the Control Bodies.

The preparation and the timing of the inspection visits are often inadequate and the number of inspections assigned to inspectors is very high. As a result, controls are often superficial and inspectors do not identify gross non-compliances. Even if major irregularities are found, they are not notified either to the Competent Authority or to other Control Bodies and the enforcement measures applied are neither dissuasive nor proportionate.

Some subcontracted activities are not always subject to the same level of controls as activities carried out by certified operators. The number of additional inspections, unannounced inspections and samples taken is insufficient and the selection of the operators for these controls is not always risk-based.

(Source: DG Sante website)