An audit of the control system in Thailand on poultry meat for export to Europe has found it has got worse in some areas since the last inspection in 2013.

Auditors from the Directorate-General Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE) visited one laboratory, five slaughterhouses and cutting plants and three meat preparation sites from Jan., 22 to Feb., 2 this year.

These eight sites included six major exporters to EU, two of whom have been involved in RASFF border rejections for Salmonella, one establishment in which serious deficiencies were found during the 2013 audit and one plant recently listed for export to the EU but not doing so yet.

The previous audit five years ago highlighted deficiencies in relation to approval procedures (not concluding the establishment complies with relevant EU requirements), maintenance and sanitary conditions, sampling plans of the competent authority and food businesses checks, use of correct analytical methods for Listeria monocytogenes and certification procedures.

The audit this year found the control system is adequately designed and has the potential to deliver guarantees of compliance with relevant EU requirements but it has substantial failures in implementation.

Last year, 5,113 tons of poultry meat was exported to the European Union, 185,844 tons of poultry meat products and 58,256 tons of poultry meat preparations, according to Thai authorities.

The audit found authorities responsible for the official control system on production of poultry meat and products are clearly designated and their structure and organization is adequate. However, in practice systems failed to achieve their purpose in some establishments visited as authorities did not detect/record serious deficiencies and were not in a position to take appropriate corrective action.

In one establishment that was suspended from exporting to the EU the measure was not formally imposed. Instead, the competent authority convinced the food business operator to stop requesting certification to export.

In four sites, the audit team found serious non-conformities not identified during official controls by the competent authority, or identified, but not recorded and not dealt with or corrected. Deficiencies were mostly related to structure, lay-out, maintenance, cleanliness and hygiene of operations.

The central competent authority, the Department of Livestock Development of the Ministry of Agriculture (DLD), removed the four plants from the EU list and announced a review of all EU listed establishments. It set up a reporting system of non-compliance including the corrective actions being taken and date of completion which became effective in April in response to audit findings.

“Following serious deficiencies identified by the audit team in four out of eight establishments visited … the central competent authority announced that all remaining establishments currently listed for export of poultry meat and products derived therefrom, will be urgently reviewed by “external” auditors – auditors other than the DLD auditors usually involved in auditing of export establishments -, in order to verify their compliance,” the audit team said in the report.

In the establishment which had serious deficiencies during the 2013 audit, and the corrective action plan presented appeared satisfactory on paper, remaining serious deficiencies were found.

“In general, the system has the potential of ensuring that food establishments meet the relevant EU standards. The control system in place includes enforcement measures that can be effective and dissuasive if properly applied. However, they are not always applied as deficiencies are not detected/recorded by the competent authority. Therefore, the competent authority cannot ensure that non-compliant products are or have not been exported to the EU,” said the audit team.

The system of rotation of official staff between sites every three months may have contributed to the under-detection, or lack of correction of deficiencies, said the audit team. It is done to ensure impartiality of officials and avoid conflict of interest.

Responding to the findings, the DLD said rotation of official veterinarians has been changed to every six months to make sure there is adequate time for them to familiarize with the establishment layout and system.

There were 24 RASFF notifications related to Salmonella in fresh meat and meat preparations in 2017 and 26 in 2016. The auditors visited two plants which contributed to the figures (six and seven notifications respectively) and were significant EU exporters.

“In no case could the precise source/origin of Salmonella be established, but the structural, maintenance and sanitary deficiencies in the establishments concerned may have been the contributing factor; and while this was also stated in one competent authority report, the corrective actions did not address these overarching deficiencies,” said the audit team.

Labs involved in microbiological analysis for poultry meat and derived products and potable water meet the relevant EU requirements.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)