The European Commission’s unit responsible for policy on food safety and health has published two reports on fishery products from tuna species.

DG SANTE auditors went to Italy from Jan. 29 to Feb. 8 this year and Portugal from Oct. 15 to 26, 2018. It covered the fishing, production, processing, distribution and placing on the market — up to and excluding retail — of tuna products.

The objective was to assess Italian and Portuguese control systems, which verify fishery products from tuna species are produced in compliance with EU requirements on food hygiene, additives and labeling.

From 2016 to 2018, DG SANTE did eight audits to non-EU countries to evaluate official controls over and certification of fishery products from tuna species. During these visits, the agency identified breaches of EU food safety rules.

Italy heavily involved
From 2015 to the end of 1Q 2018, members of the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) network issued 1,134 notifications on fishery products.

Italy with national flag

Since 2015, Italy was involved in 101 RASFF notifications of tuna products and 70 were notified by Italian authorities. Authorities suspended operations of one company identified as the origin of a RASFF notification.

In the same period, Portugal was involved in 10 RASFF notifications of tuna products and eight were made by Portuguese authorities. There was one RASFF notice about tuna fishery products from Portugal. This alert, in 2017, was due to histamine levels above regulatory limits at 326 mg/kg ppm in canned tuna in sunflower oil.

In Italy, the audit team visited four laboratories, two fishing vessels and nine processing plants including cold stores.

Italian authorities distributed a letter in September 2017 with information on histamine problems linked to tuna products and tips for inspection from the EU Food Fraud Network to emphasize the need for official controls on these products.

When visiting one of the fishing vessels, the audit team noticed it was not compliant as the ice machine was installed inside the toilet facility, which had not been identified at previous controls.

The audit team was told by the local authority of one region that due to staff issues vessel inspections were not performed. In the other region, the frequency had been reduced to 10 percent of vessels to be inspected also due to lack of staff.

HACCP and histamine testing issues
One of the nine processing plants visited did not have a temperature recording device in a cold store and temperature in the room did not reach minus 18 degrees Celsius. This non-compliance had not been noted by official control staff.

In another plant, the original best-before-dates of products packed in modified atmosphere was used for re-packed items in vacuum packages after opening and portioning. Shelf-life studies to support this practice had not been performed.

In half of sites visited Hazard Analyses and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans were not up-to-date with some inaccuracies. Most visited food businesses did not apply EU rules for testing histamine. Often only one sample, instead of nine, was analyzed and in one factory nine samples were taken but the lab pooled them all before the analysis. In another site, the maximum limit applied by the business was 200mg/kg for raw material.

The audit team concluded Italian authorities have developed an official control system supported by documented procedures covering the production chain of fishery products, which has specifics on items from tuna species.

“In general, it is implemented in accordance with the documented procedures and can be considered globally satisfactory in spite of the shortcomings observed, in particular with regard to histamine testing, own controls with less than nine samples, and HACCP plans not fully accurate and kept up-to-date.”

Findings in Portugal
The audit team in Portugal visited one border inspection post, five fishing vessels and one tuna farm, one landing site and auction hall, one freezer vessel and eight processing plants.

Portugal flag

In 2016, after increased RASFF notifications at EU level on histamine in fresh tuna and fraudulent use of additives, Directorate General for Food and Veterinary (DGAV) sent information to regional coordinators including the Economic and Food Safety Authority (ASAE). The DG SANTE team was informed audits are planned for the fishery sector this year, with the last ones in 2014.

At the freezer vessel, a HACCP plan was not in place in January 2017 during an official inspection to maintain approval and it took one year for the operator to correct non-compliance.

In one vessel, an inspection in 2016 found hygienic and structural conditions were adequate even though non-compliances were identified such as a lack of records on training staff, hygiene, pest control, cleaning and disinfection. These non-compliances were outstanding during a verification inspection in 2017 and still not rectified at the time of the audit in October 2018.

At one site, the audit team observed a member of staff leave a platform where tuna was cut into loins, walk across the production floor and return to the cutting platform without cleaning protective equipment.

Weak enforcement
The audit team noted most non-compliances detected in 2017 had already been recorded in 2015 and 2016 inspection reports and HACCP deficiencies could be traced back to 2014.

Existence of long standing deficiencies and non-adherence by the food business operator to deadlines for their correction puts into question the effectiveness of follow-up activities and highlights a weakness in imposing adequate enforcement measures, added the auditors.

Portuguese official said between 2018 and 2019, 14 establishments were suspended for serious non-compliances and sanctions were only lifted after correction of all non-conformities.

The audit team concluded the two authorities responsible for official controls of fish products have developed a coordinated system based on EU legislation, which is supported by accredited labs.

“However, some shortcomings were identified such as the difficulties in the effective follow up of the correction of deficiencies identified during controls, the adherence to the established frequency of controls, the implementation of the approval system, and the absence of testing for inorganic tin in canned fishery products.”

The authorities have recently introduced measures to rectify failings in the follow-up of controls but at the time of the audit it was too early to judge effectiveness.

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