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Understanding emerging risks of imports important for sampling priorities - FSA

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By Joe Whitworth+

09-Jan-2017
Last updated on 10-Jan-2017 at 09:26 GMT2017-01-10T09:26:31Z

©iStock/vikif
©iStock/vikif

Understanding trends in emerging risks of imported food enables a clearer picture of those more likely to be subject to increased EU-wide official controls, according to the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA).

The FSA early warning system (EWS) is based on the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) for imports of food and feed not of animal origin.

Imports considered to be 'high-risk' can only enter the UK through specific ports and airports approved as designated points of entry (DPEs) where they will be subject to official controls.

Potential of high risk product import

EWS informs about the likelihood of potentially high-risk food and feed from outside the EU entering the UK and the frequency of previous RASFFs on such issues.

The system raises awareness among UK enforcement bodies (inland local and port health authorities) of potential emerging risks so they can prioritise local sampling programmes.

A 'high-risk' product is feed or food that is a known or emerging risk to public health. This may be due to contaminants and/or undesirable substances such as aflatoxins, Salmonella, pesticides, Sudan dyes or heavy metals.

Example foodstuffs with EU restrictions (data from December 2016)
  • Groundnuts (peanuts), in shell, Groundnuts (peanuts), shelled, peanut butter, Groundnuts (peanuts), otherwise prepared or preserved from Argentina due to aflatoxins
  • Betel leaves from India due to Salmonella 
  • Bivalve molluscs from Peru due to Hepatitis A virus (HAV)
  • Fishery products from Guinea due to poor sanitary conditions
  • Dried beans from Nigeria due to pesticide residues
  • Palm oil from Ghana due to Sudan dyes
  • Frozen raspberries from Serbia due to Norovirus
  • Dried apricots and apricots, otherwise prepared or preserved from Turkey due to sulphites

Where consignments are non-compliant a legal notice can require re-export (outside the EU), destruction, processing or alternative use.

EWS information is mainly for UK enforcement bodies to inform local sampling programmes but can be used by any interested parties in the UK and abroad who want to be on the mailing list.

A list of the 'high-risk' products, country of origin and frequency of checks can be found at Annex I of Regulation (EC) 669/2009 as amended by Regulation (EU) 2016/1024 in June 2016.

Enhanced controls include prior notification, import through designated ports only, and specified documentary and physical checks at points of entry.

Proposals to reform official controls along the agri-food chain recently moved a step closer with the European Parliament expected to vote on them at an upcoming plenary session.

Gabriela Matečná, minister for agriculture and rural development of Slovakia and president of the Council, said the rules will help combat food fraud, scandals and enhance consumer confidence.

They have strong requirements on transparency and stringency of controls that will bite effectively. We want our citizens to trust our control regimes and to be reassured by the quality of what they eat.”

The regulation means authorities will be able to perform unannounced official controls and impose financial penalties on operators committing intentional violations and work will be risk-based to avoid unnecessary controls and administrative burdens.

RASFF reliability

The EWS was developed within the FSA and is based on the routine analysis of EU-wide imports intelligence collected and circulated via RASFF notifications.

These are issued by the EU Commission to Member States, whenever non-compliant food or feed is found anywhere in the EU, either at ports or on the market.

The EWS identifies trends based on the frequency of RASFF notifications for products from certain non-EU countries affected by different risks.

Notifications include information about the product/commodity, country of origin, hazard and the frequency with which such issues appear in RASFF notifications.  

The EWS includes any imported food or feed from countries outside the EU (including dietary supplements). These are products not containing ingredients of animal origin and not subject to increased official import controls.

“The RASFF system is monitored on a daily basis by the FSA’s Imports Team, who collate potential emerging risks on a monthly basis. This information is summarised into a notification which is circulated monthly to enforcement bodies at UK ports and inland, as well as to other interested parties including industry.”

Feedback from local authorities about the monthly EWS notifications shows they are a valuable source of information of potential emerging risks, said FSA.

“The EWS is under constant review as part of a continuing improvement process, and has proved effective in determining emerging high-risk imported food and feed products. The decision for the UK to leave the EU will not impact on the ability of the EWS.”

Imported products of animal origin (POAO) are required to be recorded on TRACES (Trade Control and Expert System) - the EU’s pre-notification system for high-risk imported foods. 

TRACES has an automatic function to apply reinforced checks for serious or repeated non-compliances for such products and this information is available to all Border Inspection Posts (BIPs) across the EU as well as to Member States.

It is currently not mandatory to use TRACES for high-risk imported food that is not of animal origin, although the UK does.

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