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FVO finds shortcomings in Estonian audit

Controls for food contaminants are in place but with some shortcomings according to a Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) audit in Estonia.

Overall, there are arrangements for official controls on food contaminants listed in Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006, found the audit. 

Official controls are under a single competent authority; there are risk-based national sampling and inspection plans to monitor contaminants and their controls by operators and channels for sharing information and communication between competent authorities.

Weaknesses identified

However, overall effectiveness of control system is weakened by the absence of official controls at primary production level and lack of adequate training on controls.

The lack of adequate laboratory capacity to test for all regulated contaminants and deficiencies in contaminants sampling and the assessment of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) based systems are other areas of concern.

The competent authority is planning to include controls at primary production level in risk assessment for 2015.

One facility for growing cereals and another for growing green leafy vegetables, a wholesaler of cereals and nuts, a baby food processing, smoked meat plant, canned food processing site and two mills for cereals were investigated.

The audit took place from 18 to 28 March and reviewed the Competent Authorities (CAs) for official control of food contaminants, assessed the organisation, implementation and enforcement of controls including national control and the monitoring plans.

It also looked at the performance of officially designated laboratories and relevant Commission Recommendations, guidance and standards.

Objectives were to verify that official controls are in accordance with the relevant provisions of regulation and the Multi- Annual National Control Plan prepared by Estonia, evaluate the implementation of EU legislation and gather information about the results of investigations on food contaminants as specified in Commission Recommendations.

Findings and responses

Staff training was found to not be adequate in all cases and training on food contaminant controls provided for CVC inspectors was insufficient.

In response to this finding, the authority said there will be two training days in September for relevant inspectors, where they will be given an overview of the food contaminants covered with the Regulation 1881/2006.

“Continuous up to date information will be sent to inspectors via emails and issues related to food contaminants controls will continue to be one issue discussed at annual meetings with inspectors.”

The audit team noted that there is no laboratory capacity for dioxins, dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and melamine testing of Food of Non-Animal Origin (FNAO) due to budgetary constraints and lack of laboratory capacity.

There were also no established maximum time limits between the date of receipt of the sample at the laboratories and availability of the analytical result.

HACCP plans will be controlled during assessing County Veterinary Centre (CVC) Inspectors, said the Competent Authority response.

“[There will be] continuous training of staff taking samples on the requirements set in the regulations about the sampling methods and sampling weights for samples taken for the analysis of different contaminants.

“During assessment of CVC inspectors work, more emphasis will be put on the assessment of the organisation and performance of food contaminants controls by CVC inspectors.

The assessment of inspectors work will continue to have two parts: first the documentary checks and second a joint inspection to at least one food processing establishment, where actual control of the FBO takes place and the real life performance of CVC inspector can be assessed.”  

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