New year ushers in tougher food safety laws

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food, Hygiene, European union, Eu

With the ushering in of new hygiene laws at the start of this year,
food companies are now under tougher regulatory scrutiny to ensure
they do not send out poisonous products from their plants.

Laws on food hygiene, a regulation on microbiological criteria for foodstuffs, a regulation on official feed and food controls, and another on feed hygiene make up a complementary package of rules to tighten and harmonise the EU's safety measures.

The laws apply at every point in the food chain, in line with the EU's "farm to fork" approach to regulation. The package of new legislation puts the primary responsibility on all food and feed operators, from farmers and processors to retailers and caterers, to ensure that food on the EU market meets the required safety standards.

This legislation benefits businesses and trading partners by clarifying and simplifying food safety rules said Markos Kyprianou, the bloc's commissioner for health and consumer protection.

"The New Year brings a new level of protection for EU citizens as these food and feed safety rules become applicable,"​ Kyprianou stated. "Consumers can be confident that the best possible food safety practices are now being applied at every step in the production chain."

The laws on food hygiene is a streamlined body of legislation that sets down stricter, clearer and more harmonised rules for foodstuffs. The package creates specific hygiene rules for food of animal origin, and specific controls for products of animal origin intended for human consumption.

They lay down general rules for all food. Specific measures are included for meat and meat products, bivalve molluscs, seafood, milk and dairy, eggs and egg products, frog 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 the farm level.

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, Kyprianou stated.

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.

The new rules on microbiological criteria are aimed at 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 product.

The new regulation harmonises the EU's microbiological criteria for foodstuffs. Microbiological criteria are set for certain bacteria, such as salmonella and listeria in the main food categories. The categories include meat and meat products, fish, milk and dairy products, ready-to-eat foods, along with fruit and vegetables.

Other pathogens may be added in the future, following evaluations by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Food operators will be responsible for for ensuring that the criteria are met at a specific point of the food chain determined in the regulation. National authorities must verify that food companies are complying with the rules.

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,"​ Kyprianou stated.

The new regulation on feed hygiene aims at preventing food contamination from chemicals such as dioxins. Regulation 183/2005 on feed hygiene provides rules on the production, transport, storage and handling of animal feed.

Feed businesses have primary responsibility for ensuring the safety of products put on the market. They will also have to apply the HACCP self-checking principles, keep records of production and marketing, be registered with the national authorities and undergo mandatory training.

The regulation makes feed operators liable for paying the costs of withdrawing contaminated feed from the market and its destruction.

The new rules for controls on all food and feed production will also have to be applied from 1 January, both in the EU and in third countries exporting 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.

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 for collecting fees related to control procedures.

All non-EU countries will be required to present guarantees that products destined for the market meet the necessary standards.

The European Commission has produced three guidance documents and a DVD as a means of providing advice and direction to food business operators and member states on the new food safety legislation.

Related topics: Regulation