New Year, Safer Food for Europe
The first of January 2006 marks a significant milestone for food safety in the EU, with the entry into application of a large updated body of food and feed legislation. The Food “Hygiene Package”, the Regulation on microbiological criteria for foodstuffs, the Regulation on official feed and food controls, and the Feed Hygiene Regulation, constitute a complementary set of rules to tighten and harmonise EU food safety measures.
The first of January 2006 marks a significant milestone for food safety in the EU, with the entry into application of a large updated body of food and feed legislation. The Food “Hygiene Package”, the Regulation on microbiological criteria for foodstuffs, the Regulation on official feed and food controls, and the Feed Hygiene Regulation, constitute a complementary set of rules to tighten and harmonise EU food safety measures. These laws will apply at every point in the food chain, in line with the EU’s “farm to fork” approach. A key aspect of the new legislation is that all food and feed operators, from farmers and processors to retailers and caterers, will have primary responsibility for ensuring that food put on the EU market meets the required safety standards.
Markos Kyprianou, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection said, “The New Year brings a new level of protection for EU citizens as these food and feed safety rules become applicable. Consumers can be confident that the best possible food safety practices are now being applied at every step in the production chain. This legislation also offers benefits to food businesses and to our trading partners, by clarifying and simplifying the rules they must comply with”.
Food Hygiene: a comprehensive package
Adopted in 2004, the “Hygiene Package” is a streamlined body of legislation that sets down stricter, clearer and more harmonised rules on the hygiene of foodstuffs, specific hygiene rules for food of animal origin, and specific rules for controls on products of animal origin intended for human consumption. General rules are laid down for all food, while specific measures are included for meat and meat products, bivalve molluscs, fishery products, milk and dairy products, eggs and egg products, frogs’ legs, snails, animal fats, gelatine and collagen.
Under the food hygiene legislation, the onus is placed on food operators to ensure that food reaching EU consumers is safe. They will have to apply compulsory self-checking programmes and follow the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles in all sectors of the food industry, other than at farm level (see Memo). The legislation foresees the establishment of guides to good practice, at either EU or national level to assist food operators with the implementation of self-checking programmes, and all food operators will have to be registered. Imported products will be required to meet the same standards as EU goods under the new rules.
Microbiological Criteria: reducing food-borne diseases
Microbiological criteria are used to measure the safety of foodstuffs based on absence, presence or the number of microorganisms present per unit of mass/volume/area/batch. The new Regulation harmonises and modernises EU microbiological criteria for foodstuffs, with the aim of increasing consumer protection and reducing food-borne illnesses. Microbiological criteria are set for certain bacteria, such as salmonella and listeria, in the main food categories (meat and meat products, fish, milk and dairy products, ready-to-eat foods, fruit and vegetables, etc). Other pathogens may be added in the future, following evaluations by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Food operators again have primary responsibility for ensuring that the criteria are met at a specific point of the food chain determined in the Regulation, while national authorities must verify that the rules are complied with. The new microbiological criteria also apply to imported foodstuffs. This Regulation will play an important part in the implementation of the food hygiene Regulations, as the criteria can be used as a yardstick to test whether the good hygiene practices and HACCP principles are being properly applied.
Feed Hygiene: added assurance
Many food crises (e.g. dioxins) have started with contaminated feed. Regulation 183/2005 on Feed Hygiene provides rules on the production, transport, storage and handling of animal feed, with a view to ensuring safer feed and thus safer food. As with food operators, feed businesses have primary responsibility for ensuring the safety of products put on the market. They will have to apply the HACCP self-checking principles, keep records of production and marketing, be registered with the national authorities, and undergo mandatory training. Of particular importance is the liability of feed operators to pay for the costs, such as withdrawal from the market and destruction of feed, if something goes wrong with as a result of infringements of EU feed safety legislation. The Regulation covers all types of feed and the entire range of feed business operators. However, there is some flexibility for small businesses and remote regions, for which Member States may put in place appropriate solutions based on the local situation, without compromising the objective of food safety.
Official Food and Feed Controls: enhancing enforcement
New rules for controls on all food and feed production will also have to be applied from 1 January 2006, both in the EU and in third countries wishing to export to the EU. The Official Food and Feed Controls Regulation sets out harmonised EU control systems, covering both food and feed safety, and animal health and welfare standards. For national control authorities, the Regulation introduces performance criteria and better definition of tasks, and Member States will be required to draw up annual control and contingency plans which will be evaluated by the Food and Veterinary Office (FVO). The new legislation provides for enforcement measures, including actions for non-compliance with EU food safety rules. Member States will be responsible for laying down rules on sanctions, and also for collecting fees related to official control procedures from operators. With regard to import controls, all third countries will be required to present guarantees that products destined for the EU market meet the necessary standards. Technical assistance and training will be offered to developing country exporters to help them comply with the new rules.
The Hygiene Package and Official Food and Feed Controls Regulation are completed with a series of implementing rules. The main aim in drawing up the implementing measures was to ensure that the new food hygiene rules can be implemented without excessive burden to food operators and businesses.
The Commission also produced 3 guidance documents and a DVD, to provide advice and direction to food business operators and Member States on a number of different aspects of the new food safety legislation.
For more information, see: MEMO/05/498