Most issues with food and beverages in Italy involved products of animal origin and were microbiological, according to a recent report from authorities.

In 2018, almost 50,500 samples of food products were taken from all stages of the supply chain and nearly 130,000 analyzes conducted as part of official controls. From these analytical checks almost 1,500 had problems, revealing a non-compliance rate of 1.14 percent.

More than 78,000 checks were for microbiological reasons, mostly for Salmonella, followed by Listeria and E. coli, including Shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC). Vibrio, Campylobacter, norovirus, Yersinia enterocolitica and Cronobacter sakazakii were also part of tests. Activities were coordinated by the Ministry of Health (Ministero Della Salute).

A total of 1,314 non-conformities were found mostly for E. coli, including STEC, followed by Campylobacter, Listeria and Salmonella.

Types of issues detected
The highest percentage of irregularities involved microbiological issues in meat, fish and dairy products. The second category for microbiological irregularities was other food products such as composite dishes, including ready meals.

Out of 2,342 checks for allergens, 39 showed non-compliance.

Types of non-conformity found

Categories of foods with the greatest non-compliance are meats and derived products, cereals, composite dishes, confectionery products and spices.

Most testing for chemical elements concerned heavy metals with 59 of 21,518 analyzes irregular. For organic contaminants such as dioxins, PCBs, 3-MCPD and others, out of 20,161 analytical tests 29 were not compliant.

Almost 160,000 import consignments were subject to official controls, of which about two-thirds were food of non-animal origin. For this type of food, which concerned 106,116 consignments, 3,781 samples were taken and 214 were rejected. From these samples, 5,204 analyzes were carried out for Salmonella, aflatoxins and pesticides.

Checks on trade in products of animal origin led to 49 items being rejected out of 7,658 controlled lots. Rejections mostly related to bivalve mollusks for norovirus, fishery products for parasites, heavy metals or pathogenic microorganisms and poultry for Salmonella.

NAS and Guardia di Finanza operations
The 38 NAS Carabinieri units carried out more than 50,000 checks. They found non-conformities in the catering, flour, bread and pasta and dairy product sectors. Investigations led to the arrest of 13 people for crimes including sale of harmful foods dangerous for public health or in poor condition. Almost 24 million kilograms and liters of food and drink was seized.

Local NAS units were also part of a number of operations involving wine, organic foods and fruit and vegetables.

In January 2018, NAS Florence held five people responsible for marketing counterfeit wine by adding water to it with more than 800 bottles seized. One month later, NAS Lecce busted a wine adulteration operation that consisted of adding sugar and other prohibited additives to wine.

In May, NAS Bologna seized 7,000-kilogram of raw materials and food supplements, some of which had expired dates, valued at €200,000 ($220,000). Other items such as vegetables were seized for a lack of traceability information or labeling that misled the consumer on place of origin. In November, NAS Alessandria found an operation in the organic sector using banned plant protection and pesticides.

The Guardia di Finanza, a unit responsible for investigating financial crime and smuggling, also seized more than 1,384 tons of agri-food products and 207,000 liters of liquids in 2018. Confiscated products included partially fermented grapes, wine and sparkling wine, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and fruit.

One operation involved seizure of 13,812 bottles of prosecco with false origin labels. The load, found inside a truck from Greece and bound for France, had the words “Product of Italy” on the packaging as well as “Wine of Italy” and “Product of Italy” on the bottles. Documentary checks found all transported goods had been produced with grapes grown in Bulgaria.

Another found a large quantity of oil with a false indication of origin in March 2018. The seized cargo consisted of 18,000 packs of sunflower oil, or 22,880 liters, which was produced in Bulgaria but had two Italian flags on labels of the bottles.

High botulism levels
Italy sent 398 notifications via the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed in 2018. Products of Italian origin were involved in 156 alerts and 86 of these were raised by another country. Non-conformities mostly involved animal feed, fruit and vegetables, meat excluding poultry, and cereals. These were mainly due to microbiological contamination, such as Salmonella, Listeria and E. coli, but also allergens and foreign bodies. A total of 209 Italian food recalls were published on the Ministry of Health website in 2018.

Meanwhile, Italy is the European country with the highest number of botulism cases, according to the National Reference Center for Botulism (CNRB).

From 1986 to June 2019, 342 laboratory-confirmed reports of botulism involving 501 people were recorded based on recently released data.

Botulism is a rare but life-threatening condition caused by toxins produced by Clostridium botulinum bacteria. In foodborne botulism, symptoms generally begin 18 to 36 hours after eating a contaminated food. However, they can start as soon as six hours after or up to 10 days later.

It can cause symptoms including general weakness, dizziness, double-vision, trouble with speaking or swallowing, and paralysis of breathing muscles. Difficulty in breathing, weakness of other muscles, abdominal distension and constipation may also occur. People experiencing these problems should seek immediate medical attention.

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