Better reporting not falling safety standards trigger record RASFF - EC

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: European union

The number of contamination incidents reported through the European Union’s food safety alert system reached record levels last year, with an average of almost 22 logged each day during 2009, said a report from Brussels.

The Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) received a total of nearly 8,000 notifications in 2009 – a year-on-year jump of almost 12 per cent on 2008, said the EC. The amount of alert notifications on serious risks also increased slightly compared to the previous year to 557.

Pathogenic micro-organisms, allergens, heavy metals and mycotoxins were among the risks most commonly reported to the weekly list issued by the Europe Commission (EC).

But the EC said the increase in reports did not mean the region’s food system was less safe. Instead, numbers hit a record high because member states had sent more follow-up notifications, even for less serious problems, said the body. It added that last year was the first in some time that had been free from any major safety scares.

Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, John Dalli stressed the findings showed there was an increasing openness among member states to share information on food safety but he cautioned that nobody could relax over the issue.

"We cannot rest on our laurels when it comes to food safety, even if 2009 is the first year [for a long time] without any significant incidents being reported in the RASFF,”​ he said.

Report findings

The report highlighted a number of issues and trends:

  • A significant decrease in notifications on aflatoxins in all food categories
  • A substantial increase in notifications on genetically modified food – with a large number relating to unauthorised linseed FP967. This was first detected in Europe in 2009, in a substantial number of shiploads imported into the EU from Canada.
  • More findings were reported on forbidden nitrofurans in shrimps from Bangladesh and India. Nitrofurans are antibiotics used for treatment of shrimps but are forbidden in the EU because of their carcinogenicity
  • A rise in notifications for unauthorised substances in food supplements
  • Increased reporting by member states of risks related to allergens in food

Notification types

The report said that two thirds of the notifications related to products originating from within the EU and that almost all these problems were identified by controls carried out on the market.

Some 3,322 original notifications were made through the RASFF system last year - of which 1,796 market notifications, 1,484 border rejections and 42 news notifications. These original notifications gave rise to 4,767 follow-up notifications, representing on average about 1.4 follow-ups per original notification. The figures represent a 5.8 per cent increase in original notifications and a 17.7 per cent increase in follow-up notifications; resulting in an overall jump of 13.4 per cent.

Commissioner Dalli said: “The high number of RASFF notifications shows that Member States are very willing to cooperate beyond their national borders to safeguard our high level of food safety in the EU."

RASFF now has 34 members after Switzerland joined as a partial associate for products of animal origin. More than 60 countries that are not members were connected to the system last year. The EC said this “was only the beginning”​ and that three seminars on RASFF had already been held in Vietnam and Macao, for Asian countries and in South Africa for the African continent. A mission in Indonesia was the first of a series of sustained training missions, where EU experts are sent on the spot to help authorities to set up their alert system.

Related topics: Regulation & Safety

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