The United States was in the top three countries of origin for notifications in the European Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) portal last year.

The U.S. is behind only Turkey and China, according to the 2018 RASFF report, compared to fifth on the list in 2017. Most notices concern aflatoxins in nut products and seeds.

In 2018, there were 3,699 original notifications that went through RASFF, of which 1,118 were classed as alerts, 493 as information for follow-up, 675 as information for attention, and 1,401 as border rejection notification. They prompted 10,484 follow-up notifications. The alert category indicates a serious health risk for which action is required by food operators or authorities.

Overall figures show a decrease of 4 percent in original notifications compared to 2017 and a 14 percent increase in follow-up notifications, resulting in an overall increase of 9 percent.

Aflatoxins in nuts and mercury in swordfish were the two most frequent issues in food checked at the border and on the EU market. Nut products and seeds were the product category responsible for the most notifications followed by fruits and vegetables, fish products, feed and poultry products.

Data from country of origin
Turkey led the overall notifications by country of origin with 318 just ahead of China with 315 and the U.S. next with slightly more than 200. Andorra, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Paraguay were some countries with zero notifications.

The U.S. had 85 notices concerning aflatoxins in nut products and seeds. The same hazard and product led to 77 notifications from Turkey and 60 from Argentina.

Other hazards included Salmonella in poultry meat products from Brazil, ochratoxin A in fruits and vegetables from Turkey, norovirus in bivalve mollusc products from France and Salmonella Enteritidis in poultry meat products from Poland.

Vytenis Andriukaitis, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said this year marks the 40th anniversary of the RASFF, a crucial tool to ensure food placed on the market in the EU is safe.

“Traceability of food and, if need be, a swift removal of goods from the market are commitments we have towards consumers. The increased activity of the RASFF network as shown by this year’s report is a confirmation of the enhanced cooperation by food operators and member states’ authorities, which constitutes a positive message for consumers,” he said.

Data by notifying country
Netherlands made the most notifications with 456, followed by Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. Iceland, Romania, Estonia, Luxembourg and Malta made the fewest original notifications.

A total of 126 notifications came from the Netherlands on aflatoxins in nut products and seeds. This was followed by the same hazard and product category but notified by Germany 65 times and on 51 occasions by Spain.

The U.K. issued 41 notifications about 2,4-dinitrophenol (DNP) and Netherlands made 40 about Salmonella in poultry meat products. Other hazards in the top ten included mercury in fish products and parasitic infestation with Anisakis, both issues notified mostly by Italy.

Rise in pathogenic microorganisms

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In total, 58 notifications related to foodborne outbreaks with 13 identifying Salmonella as the probable cause and 12 listed norovirus.

Pathogenic microorganisms were behind 979 notifications, second was mycotoxins and then pesticide residues. There was a 19 percent increase in notifications for pathogens compared to 2017.

Salmonella is the most frequently reported in food from member states with 246 notifications, up by 19 percent. Meat makes up the bulk of notices because of food safety criteria on absence of Salmonella Typhimurium and Enteritidis in fresh poultry meat. There were 47 notifications on Salmonella in poultry from Poland, with 34 concerning Salmonella Enteritidis in fresh poultry and two operators were identified as recurrent.

Listeria monocytogenes contamination is mostly found on foods of animal origin but a multi-country foodborne outbreak related to frozen corn was solved in 2018. Listeria was notified 13 times in cheese from France, often made from raw milk but there were no recurrent operators.

There were 47 notifications, which was up 100 percent from 2017, concerning norovirus, 34 of which listed live oysters from France, with six recurrent operators. There were six notifications of it in different berries.

There were 28 notifications for Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), most often found on non-heat treated meat products and cheeses.

Allergen notifications rose by 31 percent to 149 with the most common being milk, gluten and nuts. Foreign body notifications, including plastic, metal and glass, increased by 36 percent to 136 notifications. Most are reported via consumer complaints.

Mycotoxins (569 notifications) and pathogenic microorganisms (370 notifications) are the top issues for items from non-member countries.

Recurrent aflatoxin notifications can be found for almonds, pistachios and groundnuts from the U.S.

Most reports on pathogens in food from non-member countries are about Salmonella. However, the trend shifted from poultry meat to sesame seeds while the number of notifications went down.

Recurrent notifications include Salmonella in sesame seeds from Sudan, Nigeria and India, in poultry meat from Brazil, Thailand and Chile and STEC in beef from Uruguay and Argentina.

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