Food Safety Controls: Almost Half Of Rapid Alert System Notifications Concern Imports Rejected At EU Border

About 45% of notifications to the EU’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) in 2006 concerned products from third countries which were blocked at the border by EU control authorities when the risks were identified. EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou today visited the border inspection post of Antwerp to highlight the importance of food safety controls and the EU’s rapid alert system to ensure food safety.

Commissioner Kyprianou presented the 2006 annual report on the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) which shows that notifications on risks to food safety fell by 5% in 2006 compared to 2005. This is the first time since the establishment of this food safety tool that there has been a decrease in the number of notifications. The drop can be explained largely by effective measures taken to address illegal dyes and the application of new European criteria for certain pathogenic microbes, replacing the diverse national criteria that were in place until then. In total, 6840 notifications of food and feed risks were received through the RASFF last year, compared to 7170 in 2005. The category for which the most alerts were sent was fishery products (21%), followed by meat and meat products (13%) and cereals and bakery products (12%). The 2006 RASFF report also looks at some of the bigger food safety incidents of that year and outlines the measures taken to address the problems.

Markos Kyprianou, Commissioner for Health, said: “The fact that nearly half of the food safety notifications to our rapid alert system concern imports blocked at the EU border demonstrates the importance and effectiveness of our border controls. Europe’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed plays a central role in ensuring a high level of food safety for EU citizens. It allows us to stop food safety crises before they begin, and identify problems at an early stage, thereby minimising potential health threats. The EU’s Rapid Alert System is becoming stronger and more effective year on year, and serves as an exemplary model to other countries looking for ways to raise their level of consumer protection.”

Rapid Alert System

The Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) is a tool to enable the quick and effective exchange of information between Member States and the Commission when risks to human health are detected in the food and feed chain. All Members of the RASFF (EU-27, Commission, EFSA and Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland) have a round-the-clock service to ensure that urgent notifications are sent, received and responded to in the shortest time possible. Thanks to RASFF, many food safety risks have been averted before they could do any harm to consumers.

Alerts and Information

The RASFF report breaks down the overall number of notifications in 2006 into alert (934) and information (1989) notifications. Alert notifications are sent when the food or feed presenting the risk is already on the market and immediate action is required. The majority (62%) of alert notifications in 2006 related to products originating in the EU, and most of these problems were detected by controls carried out on the market. Among the risks most reported through these alerts were the presence of potentially pathogenic micro-organisms, heavy metals (such as mercury in fish) and mycotoxins.

Information notifications are sent when a risk has been identified but immediate action by other Member States is not necessary as the product has not reached their market e.g. consignments stopped at the borders. Most information notifications (75%) were on products originating in third countries, and 40% of these related to mycotoxins (e.g. aflatoxins in nuts).

Ensuring safe imports

Almost half of all notifications through the RASFF in 2006 were about products rejected at the EU border due to a risk they were found to pose to food safety. When such a product is identified, the RASFF informs the third country in question, in order to prevent a recurrence of the problem. In 2006, 1959 information notes were transmitted to third countries about risky products originating in their country. When a serious and persistent problem is detected, the Commission sends a letter to the national authorities of the third country concerned, so that they implement corrective measures such as delisting establishments, blocking exports or intensifying controls.

Spreading safety worldwide

The RASFF report also outlines future activities which are planned in this area. One example is a project to promote the idea of a worldwide rapid alert system for food safety. Initially, the Commission will help interested third countries to develop a national system to improve consumer protection, and 3 training seminars are organised to this end in 2007 under the Better Training for Safer Food initiative. The ultimate goal will be to join all of these national systems in a global network of food safety alert systems.

Leave a Reply