Europe’s food ‘safer than ever’

By David Burrows

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: European commission

A number of lessons have been learnt from E.coli
A number of lessons have been learnt from E.coli
Europe’s food is “safer than ever”, despite an increase in reports to Europe’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) in 2011.

According to the European Commission (EC), the system is working better than ever, with many food risks having been averted or mitigated, thanks to the RASFF.

RASFF plays a key role in ensuring safety from production to consumers by triggering a rapid reaction when a food safety risk is detected. All members of the RASFF system are informed of serious risks found in food or feed so they can coordinate responses and actions.

John Dalli, health and consumer policy commissioner, said RASFF “reinforces the confidence of our consumers in our food and feed safety system”.

Serious risks

A full breakdown of RASFF reports in 2011 showed there were 9,157 notifications in RASFF related to non-compliances with EU food legislation, of which 617 concerned serious risks.

Most of the notifications were follow-ups (5,345) rather than new (3,812) notifications. This reflected an increased effectiveness of the system with a better targeting and a more extensive follow-up.

Of the 3,812 new notifications, 3,139 concerned food, 361 concerned feed and 312 concerned food contact materials. Some of the most reported issues were aflatoxins in feed, dried fruits and nuts and migration of chemical substances from kitchen utensils from China.

Although the number of notifications was higher than in 2010, this was due to an increase in so-called follow-up notifications.

The EC report concluded: “The increase in follow-up notifications means that RASFF is used more intensively to follow up on reported problems. As such, these problems will be solved more rapidly and measures will be put in place to prevent them from happening again.”

Safer EU borders

The strengthening of safety checks at EU borders, in particular, has been welcomed, with almost half the notifications related to food and feed rejected at EU borders.

The system also played a key role in the E.coli​ crisis, from which a number of lessons have been learned.

For instance, the RASFF has been enhanced with the launch of an online notification platform – iRASFF – which will speed up the process. Recently, a portal interface was also added to the system, which has been welcomed by the Food and Drink Federation (FDF). The portal enables the user to search rapidly through RASFF notifications recorded over many years, which is “invaluable in both monitoring trends and identifying emerging issues” said an FDF spokeswoman.

RASFF provides a “useful tool”​ for food manufacturers, she added, but it is not without its problems.

“We have commented in response to previous reviews of the system that there are inconsistencies in the use of the system by the various Member States, for example in their categorisation of entries. The Commission is aware of this and has been open to suggestions for improvement from industry, as well as other stakeholders.”

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