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In the European Union (EU) and United States of America (US), government agencies monitor both imported and domestically produced food for compliance to their regulations. They issue alerts/recalls when there is a possibility of harm to consumers, identify trends or issues and use this information to improve food safety.

Healthy Foods

Each year the EU compiles a report on the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF). This report, in simple terms, is broken down into notifications of various types, such as information notifications, border rejection notifications, non-compliance notifications, etc. and alert notifications, or alerts about products on the market which present a serious risk and requires the attention of another country. In the US, there are many different reports, some are issued quarterly or annually, but no single report such as RASFF so the focus in this article will be on the Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration (IFSAC) Annual Report on Foodborne Illness Source Attribution Estimates and the US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program Report, which addresses more closely the first and third largest grouping of hazard notifications noted in RASFF.

EU RASFF

In the EU in 2018 there were 3,699 notifications, which resulted in 1,118 alerts. There were 979 notifications for pathogenic micro-organisms, 655 notifications for mycotoxins and 276 notifications for pesticide residues.

Product Category

Other major notifications in order were composition (224), allergens (207), poor & insufficient controls (179), foreign bodies (168) and food additives & flavorings (142).

A few of these notifications came from governments of non-member countries, for example an alert from Chile of 112.63 ppb oxytetracycline in frozen Atlantic salmon fillets exported to Germany, which notified Denmark where the receipt of the consignment was located.

Hazard Catergory

For pathogenic micro-organisms, Salmonella is still the most frequently reported pathogen, with poultry meat and poultry meat products being the top notification because of the food safety criteria for the absence of Salmonella Typhimurium and Enteritidis in fresh poultry meat. Sesame seeds are another product reported with major Salmonella issues. Listeria monocytogenes is the second most notified pathogenic source, which is primarily found on food of animal origin but a major outbreak involving frozen corn indicates that there are other sources that must be considered. In Europe norovirus was number three, with most of this from French oysters but some six notifications were for various berries. Shigatoxin-producing Escherichia coli (E. coli) is fourth with most of these notifications occurring in non-treated meat products and cheeses.

Mycotoxin compliance is primarily an issue of non-member countries. The major issue is Aflatoxin occurring in nuts, nut products, seeds and dried figs. Ochratoxin A is the next mycotoxin, with issues occurring in raisins and dried figs.

For pesticides, this is primarily an issue of non-member countries. Fruit and vegetables are still the primary concern for failed pesticide residue compliance, followed by cocoa and cocoa preparations, coffee and tea.

United States – IFSAC Report

The IFSAC report of 2017 analyzes the data of outbreaks from 1998 to 2017 to assess which categories of food were most responsible for four specific pathogens:

  • Salmonella (811 of 1,329 outbreaks)
  • E. coli O157:H7 (242 of 1,329 outbreaks)
  • Listeria monocytogenes (40 out of 1,329 outbreaks)
  • Campylobacter (236 out of 1,329)

The US government estimates, annually, 9 million people become ill, 56,000 are hospitalized and 1,300 people die from foodborne diseases.

For Salmonella, 75.3% of the illnesses can be attributed to seeded vegetables such as tomatoes, chicken, fruits, pork, eggs, other produce and beef. For E. coli 72.15% of the illnesses are from vegetable row crops such as leafy vegetables and beef. For Listeria monocytogenes 77.7% is from dairy products and fruits. For Campylobacter, when excluding unpasteurized milk, 78.9% of the illnesses are attributed to chicken, seafood, turkey and other meat and poultry.

United States – US FDA Pesticide Report

The US FDA 2017 pesticide monitoring program report views pesticides as those products domestically produced and those products imported. There are six major categories grains, dairy/eggs, fish/shellfish (only imported), fruits, vegetables and others. Samples are recorded as with no residues, with residues, no violations and in violation.

Domestic results in violation are:

  • Vegetables 9.4%
  • Other 2.7%
  • Fruits 1.8%
  • Grains 1.6%

And for imported goods results in violation are:

  • Grains 14.1%
  • Vegetables 12.5%
  • Other 8.2%
  • Fruits 7.9%
  • Fish/Shellfish 0.5% (or 1 sample)

The ‘Other’ group is largely comprised of cashew nuts, seeds, condiments/dressings, olive oil, refined oil, honey, beverages, spices, multi-ingredient products, tea and dietary supplements.

Imported items that may require special attention per the 2016 and 2017 annual report are onions, leeks, scallions, shallots, papaya, peas, hot peppers, prickly pears, rice (excluding powder and snacks), spinach and snap (string) beans. Imported items that may require special attention criteria, in 2017 meant commodities with at least 20 samples analyzed or with a minimum of 4 violations and a violation rate of 10% or higher.

There was a special sampling of 119 samples of corn, soybean, milk and eggs for glyphosate for which 70.6% of the samples were without residues, no residue was found in milk and eggs. Also, no sample was found in violation.

Comparison of the Top Ten pesticide residues found in the EU versus US.

European Union United States (FDA)
Chlorpyrifos Imidacloprid
Carbofuran Boscalid
Methomyl
Azoxystrobin
Formetanate
Carbendazim
Tricyclazole
Pyraclostrobin
Dinotefuran
Fludioxonil
Dimethoate
Chlorpyrifos
Omethoate
Thiamethoxam
Tolfenpyrad Tebuconazole
Acetamiprid
Chlorantraniliprole

Chlorpyrifos, which was the top residue found in the EU testing and 7th residue found for the US, is in the process of being banned in the State of Hawaii, awaits the governor’s signature to be banned in New York state, will no longer be sold in California as of February 6, 2020 and growers there will no longer be permitted to possess or use this product after December 31, 2020. Additionally, the Natural Resources Defense Council has ongoing ligation against the current administration for refusal to ban this residue use on food crops. A similar situation is taking place in the EU as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) assessment that identifies human health effects and the approval period for chlorpyrifos expires January 2020.

Not surprisingly, Salmonella tops both the EU and US pathogenic organism list. In the US about 4.3% of import refusals from January 2014 to September 2019 are related to Salmonella as fully or part of the refusal.

SGS Solutions

With a global network of experts, dedicated laboratories and a regulatory database (SGS Digicomply), SGS offers a comprehensive range of services to help manufacturers and suppliers that sell a diverse group of products to help assure that they are safe and compliant with national and international regulations.

SGS also offers a Mycotoxin Monitoring Program. Covering ten south-east European countries, this early warning and monitoring program works in line with the requirements of several certification schemes and provides an effective early warning notification system against Aflatoxin (B1 and total), Ochratoxin, Deoxynivalenol, Zearalenone, Fumonisins, and HT-2/T-2.

For the complete range of SGS services and support visit www.foodsafety.sgs.com.

Jim Cook
Global Food Inspection Technical Manager
t: +1 973 461 1493