Safety alerts indicate continuing problems in EU countries

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags European union

A total of 66 alerts and information notices on contaminated and
unsafe food or feed within the EU's borders were sent out to the
various member regulators last week, marking a particularly bad
period for manufacturers of the products caught by checks or
disease outbreaks.

The details are revealed in the weekly report published by the EU's Eurosurvelliance network. An overview of last week shows that continuing problems with Salmonella and with Iranian pistachioscontinue to crop up as the main food safety problems in the bloc.

By comparison the week before last, countries issued 37 alerts and information notices. However that week was marked by a massoutbreak of E. coli infection from meat.

The processing industry is under regulatory and consumer pressure to ensure better safety of their products. In addition to the damage to a firm's reputation and market share a food safetyproblem may cause, huge expenses may be incurred due to product recalls and fines.

Last year Eurosurvelliance, the EU's cross-border warning network, recorded 691 alerts about bad foods. That's a 52 per cent jump in the number of alerts over the previous year. Alerts recordincidents of contaminated food or feed that may have crossing into other members' borders. Another 1,897 information notices, a 2 per cent rise, recorded incidents that remained contained within anindividual country, or arrived as exports to the bloc and were stopped at its borders.

Last week's round up included five alerts made against products from German and four alerts of products made in France.

For example Demark notified the network twice on 7 November that it had found Salmonella typhimurium DT 104 in fresh pork bellies and meat from Germany. Italy also alerted the network that it hadfound Salmonella in fresh pork meat from Germany.

France alerted the network on the same day it had found glass fragments in wine from an unnamed producer. On 11 November Finland alerted the network it had found Salmonella Indiana in raw frozenturkey breast filet from France. Norway said on the same day it had found too high a count of coliforms in brie from the country.

Austria alerted the system last week after finding Salmonella group B in meat sausage tapas from Spain. The UK found Bacillus cereus in pasta and a foreign body in green pesto basil sauce, bothproducts from Italy.

Finland found Salmonella Blockley in boneless skinless turkey breast from Hungary. Norway alerted the system about its boiled and living crabs exports, which were found to cause diarrheic shellfishpoisoning from azaspiracide. Belgium issued an alert about its fresh beef rear quarters exports, which were found to have Escherichia coli O:157.

Among the notifications, unauthorised colours Sudan 1 and Sudan 4, both a recurring problem last year and this year, cropped up in hot paprika made in Spain.

Meanwhile, aflatoxins found in pistachio nuts from Iran were the subject of eight separate information notices from various countries. In 2004, the system received a total of 844 notifications onaflatoxins, compared to 763 the year before and nearly three times as much as compared to 2002 (288).

Last year 538 notifications concerned aflatoxins in pistachios, of which 487 concerned those primarily originating from Iran. As a result the European Commission cracked down on imports from Iranand put in place new measures. All consignments from the country are analysed twice, the first time prior to export by Iran's regulators and the second time prior to import by the EU member state.

The EU has also limited the validity of the health certificates issued to Iran's exports to four months. The bloc also requires that all costs resulting from sampling, analysis, storage andofficial measures taken regarding non compliant consignments to be borne by the importers or food business operators concerned.

Last year Iran topped the list of alerts and notifications for origin of food stuffs caught with contaminants or illegal substances. It was followed by Turkey (181 alerts and information notices),China (163), India (111), Brazil (108), France (108), Italy (90), Germany (88) and Spain (80).

Iran was among the 10 countries the Commission notified about recurring problems in their food exports. Taiwan, Brazil, Indonesia, China, Malaysia, the UK, the US and Ghana all received warningletters. The UK was cited for parasites in fishery products, while the US was warned about the high incident of aflatoxins in nuts, nut products and snacks.

In all the EU member states accounted for 63 per cent of the alert notices and 12 per cent of the notifications. EU candidate countries Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Turkey accounted for another four per cent of alerts and nine per cent of the notifications.

Other non-EU countries accounted for 33 per cent of the alerts by origin of food product and 79 per cent of the notifications.

So far this year E. coli laden meat products in the UK led to 161 people falling sick and the death of a boy in September. A processor was shut down and is now under investigation. In the same month aSpanish cooked chicken processor owned by Dutch-based Nutreco was found to have poisoned 2,700 people with salmonella.

Two weeks ago, a food poisoning outbreak in France left 18 people seriously ill after they ate meat made by Soviba and bought at a supermarket.

The Eurosurvelliance network's weekly overview of alert and information notifications does not reveal the trade names and the identity of individual companies reported on. The European Commissionsays it does not provide the information because it wants to strike a balance between openness and the protection of commercial information.

"Consumers can be reassured that products subject to an alert notification have been withdrawn or are in the process of being withdrawn from the market,"​ the Commission stated. "Themember states have their own mechanisms to carry out such actions, including the provision of detailed information through the media if necessary."

In the case of information notifications food or feed, other members of the network do not have to take immediate action, because the product has not reached their market. These notificationsmostly concern food and feed consignments that have been tested and rejected at the external borders of the EU.

"Consumers can be reassured that products subject to an information notification have not reached the market or that all necessary measures have already been taken,"​ the Commissionstated.

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