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FAQ: Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) - role and achievements

European Commission - MEMO/12/583   20/07/2012

Other available languages: none

European Commission

MEMO

Brussels, 20 July 2012

FAQ: Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) - role and achievements

What is RASFF?

Launched in 1979, the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) is primarily a tool to exchange information between competent authorities on consignments of food and feed in cases where a risk to human health has been identified and measures have been taken. Measures include: withholding, recalling, seizing or rejecting products. This rapid exchange of information allows all Member States, in real time, to check whether they are also affected and if urgent action is needed. If a risky food or feed product is already on the market and should not be consumed, the Member States' authorities have the power to take an array of emergency measures, including giving direct information to the public.

Why do we need RASFF?

RASFF is a concrete and visible result of European integration. The quick exchange of information among public health authorities linked to RASFF on food and feed related risks ensures coordinated, coherent and simultaneous actions by all RASFF members which benefits consumer safety as a whole.

Consumers can also get access to an online database allowing them to see information relating to RASFF notifications at the latest 24 hours after their transmission into the RASFF network. Thanks to the work carried out by RASFF and depending on different technical and scientific criteria such as nature, seriousness and extent of the risk, public health authorities can take appropriate steps to inform the general public of the nature of the risk, type of food or feed involved and the measures taken to prevent, reduce or eliminate that risk.

How does RASFF work in practice?

First the problem is notified by the member of the network who has information relating to the existence of a serious direct or indirect risk to human health deriving from food or feed. This information is immediately notified to the Commission through RASFF who in turn immediately transmits to the other members of the network.

Member States use a common template to provide all relevant and useful information including:

  • identification of the product,

  • hazards found,

  • measures taken and

  • traceability information of the product.

Once the information is received, other Member States will check to see if they are concerned. If the product is on their market they will be able to trace it using the information in the notification. They will report back on what they have found and what measures they have taken. In case of products produced in the EU, the Member State where the product originates will also report on the outcome of its investigations into the origin, distribution and cause of the problem identified. This allows other Member States to take rapid action if needed.

Who are the members of the RASFF system?

The RASFF network includes: all EU Member States, EEA countries (Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland), the EFTA Secretariat coordinating the input from the EEA countries, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Commission as the manager of the system. Following an agreement that came into force on 1 January 2009, Switzerland is a partial member of the system as far as border rejections of product of animal origin are concerned. Croatia as from 2013 will become a new member of RASFF when they become a full member of the EU.

What are the criteria for sending a notification via RASFF?

Member States must immediately notify the Commission via RASFF when they take action to avoid risk to human health linked to food and feed.

The specific criteria for notification set out in the legislation1 are as follows:

  • any measure they adopt which is aimed at restricting the placing on the market or forcing the withdrawal from the market or the recall of food or feed in order to protect human health and requiring rapid action;

  • any recommendation or agreement with professional operators which is aimed, on a voluntary or obligatory basis, at preventing, limiting or imposing specific conditions on the placing on the market or the eventual use of food or feed on account of a serious risk to human health requiring rapid action;

  • any rejection related to a direct or indirect risk to human health, of a batch, container or cargo of food or feed by a competent authority at a border post within the European Union.

What are the main findings of the RASFF annual report 2011?

In 2011, 9157 notifications in RASFF related to non-compliances with EU food legislation were reported, of which 617 concerned serious risks. Most of the notifications were follow-up (5345) rather than new (3812) notifications. This reflects an increased effectiveness in the system with better targeting and more extensive follow-up. Out of the 3812 original notifications: 3139 concerned food, 361 concerned feed and 312 concerned food contact materials.

These data back our robust EU food safety policy of strengthening border controls for food of non-animal origin. 2011 saw an increase in follow-up notifications. This continuing trend shows that the efficiency of RASFF is ever increasing in providing authorities rapidly with information they need to withdraw unsafe products from the market.

Does the overall increase in notifications mean that our food is less safe?

No. The increase in so-called follow-up notifications means that RASFF is used more intensively to follow up on reported problems. As such, these problems will be solved more rapidly and measures will be put in place to prevent them from happening again. The increase in notifications for products on the market and in particular for border rejections shows that more targeted controls are carried out for products which were previously reported or which are suspect of posing a risk. This actually means that the food consumed by all EU citizens is safer than ever. We are continuously improving our system and our food safety levels.

What is covered by the top notifications?

At what stage is the public informed and who informs them?

Information about RASFF notifications can be consulted through the RASFF Portal database which offers a wide range of search parameters. The RASFF Portal database does however not allow worried consumers to identify in full those notifications concerning products that they should not consume. They should rely on information from the national authorities for that. The public should also be aware that RASFF notifications are issued for specific batches of product where a risk was identified. Often such risk may be present in one batch, but not in the other and may have entered the product despite of the good care taken by the business operator.

Who has what powers to take action when a problem is detected?

When a problem is detected, it is the task of the national food and feed authorities to take the necessary action. This includes any action necessary to immediately eliminate the risk but also to prevent a similar risk reoccurring. A whole range of actions are carried out and reported back through RASFF: withdrawal or recall of the products and their possible destruction, information to the public, re-dispatch to origin etc. If there is a need for emergency (safeguard) measures at EU level, the Commission and Member States can decide upon these measures using a rapid procedure. Such measures are binding with immediate effect on all Member States.

What was the role played by the RASFF in the E-coli outbreak of 2011?

In 2011, the EU experienced one of the most serious food-borne outbreaks in its history with more than 50 casualties, mainly in Germany. Despite its serious consequences, the existence of RASFF, arguably, played an important role in mitigating the impact of the e-coli outbreak.

During that period, a taskforce of specialists worked around the clock and thanks to their tireless work, the food that had caused the outbreak was identified down to the lot number of an imported consignment.

Lessons have been learned: one of the future challenges is how to handle food crisis communication when several actors are involved in order not to create any unnecessary panic. Other lessons relate to improving the way different networks and warning systems interact and focus on emerging risks. With this in mind, iRASFF, an online notification platform was launched in 2011 which will provide to a faster and more efficient RASFF.

Have safety concerns linked to Fukushima and E-coli been resolved?

Fukushima: A substantial review of the existing measures is foreseen before 31 October 2012. Based on the most recent control results (results of sampling controls for the new growing season from March 2012 onwards) will be examined in this review. If the number of prefectures where a testing of all feed and food originating from those prefectures is required before export to the EU can be reduced and if the measures are to be applied to specific feed and foods of concern instead of currently all feed and food (with a few exceptions).

E. coli: The Commission also published today a document on the lessons learned from the 2011 outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) O104:H4 in sprouted seeds. The document refers to actions taken to ensure that similar outbreaks are avoided or at least mitigated as regards public health and economic impact. The actions include strengthening of hygiene and control at production and import of (seed) sprouts, training of Member State competent authorities and major trade partners and a revision of safety of all food of non-animal origin. Crisis management and communication procedures are reviewed including internal operational standards and the creation of an EU network of risk communicators for food safety.

RASFF - Breakdown by Member State (country of origin) of top 5 most notified product category/hazard combination

Origin

Product category

Hazard

Product category

Hazard

Product category

Hazard

Product category

Hazard

Product category

Hazard

Austria

meat products (other than poultry)

Shigatoxin E. coli

dairy products

Listeria monocytogenes

meat products (other than poultry)

no health mark

nuts, nut products and seeds

altered organoleptic characteristics

feed

arsenic

Belgium

meat products (other than poultry)

Listeria monocytogenes

fruits and vegetables

cadmium

dairy products

Listeria monocytogenes

alcoholic beverages

glass fragments

meat products (other than poultry)

verotoxin E. coli

Bulgaria

Fruits and vegetables

Oxamyl

confectionery

undeclared sulphite

cereals and bakery products

undeclared peanut

natural mineral water

unauthorised operator

Fruits and vegetables

too high level of radioactivity

Cyprus

None

Czech republic

nuts, nut products and seeds

aflatoxins

nuts, nut products and seeds

taste disturbance

dietetic foods, food supplements

benzo(a)pyrene

cereals and bakery products

deoxynivalenol (DON)

fruits and vegetables

ethion

Germany

food contact materials

migration of melamine

food contact materials

migration of formaldehyde

Cocoa, coffee and tea

undeclared milk ingredient

meat products (other than poultry)

Salmonella

feed materials

dioxins

Denmark

fish and fish products

Listeria monocytogenes

fish and fish products

Parasite infestation

cereals and bakery products

deoxynivalenol (DON)

compound feeds

dioxins

feed materials

dioxins

Estonia

dietetic foods, food supplements

unauthorised substance

fish and fish products

undeclared egg

fish and fish products

metal pieces

fish and fish products

histamine

eggs and egg products

high count of Enterobacteriaceae

Spain

fish and fish products

mercury

fish and fish products

parasitic infestation

dietetic foods, food supplements

gold unauthorised

dietetic foods, food supplements

silver unauthorised

fish and fish products

carbon monoxide treatment

Finland

Confectionery

undeclared wheat

France

fish and fish products

mercury

fish and fish products

parasitic infestation with Anisakis

milk and milk products

Listeria monocytogenes

bivalve molluscs

Diarrhoeic Shellfish Poisoning (DSP)

meat products (other than poultry)

Salmonella spp.

United Kingdom

herbs and spices

Salmonella

bivalve molluscs

Diarrhoeic Shellfish Poisoning (DSP)

cereals and bakery products

undeclared soya

alcoholic beverages

glass fragments

cereals and bakery products

presence of soya

Greece

fish and fish products

parasitic infestation

food contact materials

migration of soybean oil (ESBO

fruits and vegetables

dimethoate

fish and fish products

mercury

fruits and vegetables

aflatoxins

Hungary

cereals and bakery products

deoxynivalenol (DON)

meat products (other than poultry)

verotoxin producing E. coli

confectionery

undeclared milk ingredient

confectionery

unauthorised use of colour E 127

dietetic foods, food supplements

unauthorised yohimbine

Ireland

confectionery

traces of milk

confectionery

undeclared milk ingredient

cereals and bakery products

traces of celery

meat products (other than poultry)

Salmonella dublin

bivalve molluscs

norovirus

Italy

Dairy products

Listeria monocytogenes

meat products (other than poultry)

Listeria monocytogenes

feed materials

Salmonella Mbandaka

feed materials

Salmonella Agona

bivalve molluscs

Diarrhoeic Shellfish Poisoning (DSP)

Lithuania

fish and fish products

Listeria monocytogenes

fruits and vegetables

metal fragments

cereals and bakery products

infested with moulds

food additives and flavourings

improper packaging

soups, broths, sauce and condiments

defective packaging

Luxembourg

dietetic foods, food supplements

unauthorised melatonin

Latvia

fish and fish products

benzo(a)pyrene

fish and fish products

Listeria monocytogenes

feed materials

Bone fragments of land animals

soups, broths, sauce and condiments

undeclared hazelnut

fish and fish products

undeclared gluten

Malta

fish and fish products

Mercury

nuts, nut products and seeds

taste disturbance

prepared dishes and snacks

plastic fragments

cereals and bakery products

infested with larvae of insects

The Netherlands

food contact materials

Migration of formaldehyde

food contact materials

migration of melamine

nuts, nut products and seeds

taste disturbance

fish and fish products

E 452 unauthorised

feed materials

Salmonella tennessee

Poland

fish and fish products

Listeria monocytogenes

poultry meat and products

Salmonella

cereals and bakery products

deoxynivalenol (DON)

food contact materials

migration of cadmium

feed materials

Salmonella

Portugal

fish and fish products

Spoilage

fish and fish products

mercury

feed materials

Salmonella

fish and fish products

defective packaging

feed materials

fragments of bones of land animals

Romania

food contact materials

migration of lead

food contact materials

migration of cadmium

fruits and vegetables

infested with larvae of insects

feed additives

dioxins

nuts, nut products and seeds

taste disturbance

Sweden

cereals and bakery products

deoxynivalenol (DON)

dietetic foods, food supplements

unauthorised marketing

cereals and bakery products

traces of wheat

non-alcoholic beverages

deterioration of organoleptic quality

fish and fish products

infested with moulds

Slovenia

fats and oils

benzo(a)pyrene

cocoa, coffee and tea

undeclared milk ingredient

nuts, nut products and seeds

infested with insects

nuts, nut products and seeds

aflatoxins

fruits and vegetables

abnormal smell

Slovakia

food contact materials

Migration of formaldehyde

nuts, nut products and seeds

taste disturbance

Nuts and seeds

bad organoleptic quality

fruits and vegetables

too high content of E 200 - sorbic acid

food contact materials

migration of melamine

1 :

Article 50 of Regulation (EC) N° 178/2002, OJ L 60, 1.3.2002, p. 70–80


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