EU report: Food, feed safety alerts drop

Last year, notifications as part of Europe’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) dropped almost 4 percent from the previous year.

In 2012, there were 8,797 RASFF notifications – a 3.9 percent decrease from 2011. Of those notifications, 40 percent (or 3,516) were original notifications and 60 percent (or 5,281) were follow-ups. This represents a 7.8 percent decrease in original notifications and a 1.2 percent decrease in follow-ups in 2012 as compared to 2011. These notifications allow for the fast exchange of information between member countries and organizations when risks are found in food or feed, according to a statement on the RASFF annual report by the European Commission.

Notably, the number of notifications regarding serious food or feed risks also dropped significantly – in 2012, there were 526 notifications, a 14 percent drop from 2011.

RASFF helps food safety officials by enhancing the flow of information across borders. The program was started 30 years ago. When an at-risk product is found, RASFF notifies the nation of origin so the problem can be fixed. The notification includes information such as the name of the product, what hazards were present and what corrective actions were taken.  If the problem continues, the Commission sends a letter to the country urging specific action, such as blocking exports or improving controls.

The 2012 report also makes special note of the methanol poisoning outbreak in Czech Republic, which claimed 36 lives and was linked to counterfeit liquor. RASFF was used to spread information from the Czech Republic to other member nations.

The methanol poisoning outbreak, along with the horse meat scandal (read more here) have led officials to also begin looking at the need to exchange information during incidences of food fraud. Although not originally intended for use in cases of food fraud, RASFF came into play during the horse meat incident – more than 70 RASFF notifications were sent along with more than 300 follow-ups that helped get implicated product removed from shelves.

“RASFF is now an indispensable tool to respond to, and mitigate, food safety situations in the EU, since vital communication is swiftly exchanged to protect European consumers,” said Tonio Borg, the European Union’s Commissioner for Health and Policy, in a statement. “Whilst the horsemeat scandal that has been making headline news does not fall within this reporting period, it is important to highlight that thanks to the existence of RASFF, food safety authorities throughout the EU were able to swiftly exchange information. As a result, the products were traced and withdrawn from the market. The Commission envisages to extend the scope of RASFF to the fight against food fraud.”

To read the full report, click here.

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