While people reading this may not be able to agree whether 2020 is the start of a new decade or end of the last one like many on social media, I am sure we can agree to focus on food safety.
Whatever year it is we will have annual reports like the EU figures on zoonoses, Operation Opson run by Europol and Interpol, and the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) analysis of recalls. As well as something that feels like it has been dragging on for a decade: Food safety in the United Kingdom with Brexit and potential new trade deals.
Who would have predicted Spain’s Listeria outbreak last year and multi-year Listeria outbreaks being solved in Germany and the Netherlands? Strap yourselves in and see what 2020 has in store for us. Plus, the bottom of this article lists events in Europe, Africa and Asia in date order to help fill in the diary for this year.
Second World Food Safety Day
There was plenty of noise to mark the first World Food Safety Day on June 7, 2019, and two international events in Addis Ababa and Geneva, but I would have liked to have seen or been told about more action.
We all know the figures published in 2015: Every year as many as 600 million, or almost 1 in 10 people in the world, fall ill after eating contaminated food. Of these, 420,000 die, including 125,000 children younger than 5 years. Will we see revised estimates in 2020?
Unofficially, the World Health Organization is working on updates this year. Officially, the plan is to update the report for 2025 but 2020 could see countries being encouraged to do national estimates, which will inform global figures. For now, just mark the diary date of June 7 for the second World Food Safety Day.
Food safety, trade deals and Brexit
The United Kingdom is still scheduled to leave the European Union following results of a referendum in 2016 and despite delays in 2019 this is almost certain to happen in early 2020.
The U.K. and Europe have an agreement in place until the end of this year to keep things as they are now. The plan is to strike a trade deal between the two parties by the end of 2020. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said this transition period will not be extended.
The government has repeated many times that food safety and standards will not be compromised but that has not made the concerns go away. International trade negotiations with the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and Japan are on the table.
The issue was emphasized in a New Year’s message from National Farmers Union president, Minette Batters. She said the country cannot allow food imports such as chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef that are produced in ways illegal in the U.K., onto the U.K.’s supermarket shelves.
EFSA BPA risk assessment
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) should come out with the reassessment of Bisphenol A (BPA) this year. BPA is a chemical used to manufacture polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins which coat some metal food cans and bottle tops.
Safety in food contact materials has been assessed several times and most recently in 2015. This review concluded BPA poses no health risk to consumers of any age group at current exposure levels. Despite this, the EU strengthened the law around BPA in food contact plastics and food contact varnished or coated products in September 2018.
The U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), National Toxicology Program (NTP), and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are also looking at the chemical through the Consortium Linking Academic and Regulatory Insights on BPA Toxicity (CLARITY-BPA). Results showed health effects at high BPA doses and some impact at low doses but it was not clear if the chemical was solely responsible. A final report was planned for the end of 2019 but has not yet been published.
Happy Birthday to the FSA
The Food Standards Agency will be marking its 20th anniversary in April this year. There is still plenty to be getting on with such as updating regulations, food crime and online food sales.
Heather Hancock, currently FSA chair, will be leaving the post in October. Emily Miles, CEO of the agency, has been in that role since July 2019.
A report from the National Audit Office in 2019 found the food regulation system is complex, has come under financial pressure and has elements that are outdated. The FSA first put plans forward about updated legislation in 2017 and developments have been made since, but Regulating Our Future (ROF) is due for completion in 2020.
Things are not about to get easier with the U.K.’s exit from the EU, a decline in sampling, local authority staffing levels and a lack of regulation around food sales on the Internet and via platforms such as Just Eat and Deliveroo.
The National Food Crime Unit was established in 2015 following the horse meat scandal of 2013. It now has more funding and staff but has been criticized by some for a lack of public results. The Spanish Guardia Civil, French Douane and Italian NAS Carabinieri are not food focused but often publicize results of operations so hopefully 2020 will be the NFCU’s breakthrough year on that front.
New EU Health and Food Safety Commissioner
Stella Kyriakides is the new European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety and takes over from Vytenis Andriukaitis.
Kyriakides is from Cyprus and she has said priorities include the new farm-to-fork strategy to improve food safety and action against antimicrobial resistance.
She recently welcomed a decision not to renew the approvals of chlorpyrifos and chlorpyrifos-methyl, insecticides used to control insect pests on a range of crops. The first year of her role coincides with the International Year of Plant Health 2020.
Salmonella outbreak in eggs from Poland
Almost as regular as a visit from Santa and fireworks on New Year’s Eve is the annual update from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and EFSA on a Salmonella outbreak in eggs from Poland.
Sometime in January we will have the next update to a multi-country outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis linked to Polish eggs after one in November 2018, December 2017 and October 2016.
The last update listed 1,412 cases associated with the outbreak: 532 confirmed and 166 probable infections since February 2017 and 343 historical-confirmed and 367 historical-probable cases between 2012 and January 2017.
Affected countries are Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, Sweden and the U.K. The U.K. has the most illnesses with 606, followed by 287 in the Netherlands and 187 in Belgium. Maybe our New Year resolution should be to wish for this outbreak to end?
Operation Opson: Europol and Interpol
Toward the middle of the year look out for the publication of the latest on Operation Opson. The annual operation is coordinated by Europol and Interpol and supported by customs, police and national food regulatory bodies as well as partners from the private sector.
In 2019 there were 16,000 tons and 33 million liters of potentially dangerous fake food and drinks seized and 672 people arrested. The operation in 2018 resulted in the seizure of around 3,600 tons and 9.7 million liters of counterfeit or substandard food and beverages and more than 700 people were arrested or detained.
Food authority changes in 2020
Denmark has made food control more targeted at companies that cannot or will not comply with the rules beginning with the start of this year.
The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration (Fødevarestyrelsen) plans to focus efforts by using data and the experience of inspectors. All food businesses will continue to get inspection visits but how often will depend on what they have on the shelves and how good they are at following the rules. Assistance has been introduced so new entrepreneurs can get started properly. If a company does not live up to the rules they will have to pay for the two follow-up inspection visits.
The Swedish Government has tasked the Swedish Food Agency (Livsmedelsverket) with preparing criteria for monitoring and follow-up of municipal food controls.
The problem is there are difficulties in achieving an equal and effective food control as some municipal authorities do not perform the necessary checks. There are a large number of control authorities which limits the conditions for effective and equal food control with small authorities being particularly vulnerable.
The aim is increased cooperation between municipal control authorities to strengthen the equality of controls. The Swedish Food Agency has until the end of this year to report to the government.
One of the focus areas for the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) this year is extra people to deal with reports in food safety quicker. There is additional capacity for work related to the new European Official Controls Regulation and Plant Health Regulation.
The rates that the NVWA charges companies for inspections, re-inspections, system supervision, certification, sampling and analysis have also changed from Jan. 1, 2020. A total of 70 percent of NVWA is paid by the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV) and Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport (VWS). The remaining 30 percent is income from inspections and re-inspections at companies.
The Croatian Food Agency ceased work at the end of 2018 and continued activities beginning in January 2019 in the Croatian Agency for Agriculture and Food (HAPIH) as the Center for Food Safety, so happy second anniversary!
The Singapore Food Agency will introduce a new Food Hygiene Recognition Scheme (FHRS) in late 2020 for licensed food retailers to recognize consistent efforts in high hygiene standards. Food establishments will get a bronze, silver or gold award based on at least two, five or 10 years of good hygiene records respectively.
Existing grades of either ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ or ‘D’ annually based on a snapshot assessment of the premises’ hygiene standards will be phased out.
Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America events scheduled in 2020
- International symposium on Andalusian Listeria outbreak Jan. 23-24 in Seville, Spain
- BRC Food Safety Europe Feb. 12 in London, U.K.
- Asia-Pacific Symposium on Food Safety March 18-19 in Hong Kong
- Latin American Symposium on Food Safety March 30-31 in Santiago, Chile
- IFC 9th International Food Safety Forum March 31-April 1 in Nairobi, Kenya
- IAFP Europe symposium April 7-9 in Munich, Germany
- CIEH Safe Food Conference Oct. 22 in London, U.K.
- China International Food Safety and Quality Conference Nov. 4-5
- MoniQA Conference: The Future of Food Safety Nov. 9-11 in Rome, Italy
- ESCAIDE in Warsaw, Poland with date TBC
- Global Harmonization Initiative Congress on Food Safety and Security. Date and Venue TBC
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