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Pathogenic microorganism notifications jump to all-time high

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By Joe Whitworth+

17-Jun-2014
Last updated on 17-Jun-2014 at 14:04 GMT

How does RASFF work?
How does RASFF work?

A 40% increase in notifications concerning pathogenic microorganisms in food was reported to the EU’s recall portal last year.

The 642 notifications in 2013 to the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) represent an all-time high and are mainly due to pathogens in meat and in bivalve molluscs.

Notifications for Salmonella on poultry meat tripled in 2013 and just over half (94) are border rejections, according to the annual report.

Salmonella-contaminated poultry products on the market was more frequent (76) notifications, most of them concerned products produced in the EU (57 notifications) and Poland (38 notifications).

In 34 cases it was classified as a serious risk meaning they reported non-compliance with EU food safety criteria for a product that was or might have been on the market of other member countries than the notifying country.

Salmonella prevalence

Salmonella was also the main pathogen reported on fruits and vegetables, with the continuing reason being paan leaves.

Continuous reports from the UK prompted the temporary suspension of imports from Bangladesh and reinforced checks from India and Thailand.

The history of the RASFF portal

The rise in bivalve molluscs is due to marine biotoxins, Norovirus, Salmonella and E.coli.

Meat other than poultry notifications rose because of Shiga-toxin producing E.coli in chilled beef from Argentina and Brazil. Italy also notified repeated findings of STEC in frozen dear meat from Austria.

In 2013, 53 food poisoning cases were recorded, an increase of 12 compared to 2012.

As well as pathogenic bacteria and viruses, it covers the wrong composition of a food supplement or insufficient labelling not mentioning an allergenic substance that could cause illness.

Tonio Borg, EU Commissioner for Health, said: "RASFF is a vital tool to respond to food safety risks in Europe, since information is swiftly exchanged to protect European consumers.

“The horsemeat scandal illustrated the RASFF system in action and food products adulterated with horsemeat were traced back to source and withdrawn from the market.”  

Original notifications down

The number of notifications through RASFF in 2013 compared to 2012 decreased by 9% as the portal marks its 35th year.

The annual report said that 3,205 original notifications were transmitted, of which 596 were classified as an alert, 442 as information for follow-up, 705 as information for attention and 1,462 as border rejection notification.

These original notifications gave rise to 5,158 follow-up notifications, representing about 1.6 follow-ups per original notification. Follow-up notifications can lead to recalls, withdrawals, seizures and destruction of food products.

Of the 3,205 notifications transmitted in RASFF in 2013, the majority (2,710, 84.6%) concerned food, 272 concerned feed (8.5%) and 223 concerned food contact materials (6.9%).

RASFF notifications by country of origin were led by China (453), then India (257) and Turkey (226) with countries including UAE, Iceland, Jamaica, Cyprus and Bolivia having zero.

EU commissions decided not to upload 231 notifications, after consulting the notifying countries, as they were found not to satisfy the criteria for a RASSF notification (rejected notifications). This was a 245% increase compared to 2012.

RASFF measures include official control on the market, consumer complaint, company’s own check and border control.

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