A record high of more than 4,000 notifications were exchanged via the European Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) in 2019.

This past year, 4,012 messages were posted on the network which was around 10 percent more than the previous year. More than 3,500 concerned human food, 300 animal feed and almost 200 food contact materials.

Detection of Salmonella was the most common reason for reports in the warning system, according to the German Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL).

In 2019, 1,029 of all RASFF reports were related to Germany – meaning the implicated product was either manufactured in or delivered to the country. Germany sent the most notifications with more than 500, followed by the United Kingdom, Netherlands and Italy at below 400 warnings.

As in the previous year, fruit and vegetables and nuts, nut products and seeds were the most frequently reported product categories related to Germany.

With 94 reports, the category of herbs and spices was in third place. Compared to the previous year, the number of notifications for this product category increased by about 170 percent. This rise is mainly due to border rejections of black pepper from Brazil because of Salmonella, according to the report. The product has been subject to special regulations when being imported into the European Union since January 2019 and has to be checked for Salmonella more frequently.

Focus on apricot kernels and supplements
Positive Salmonella findings in food or feed were behind more than one in five RASFF reports this past year. The most frequent reason for German involvement was reporting the presence of microorganisms such as Salmonella, Listeria or E. coli. In second place, as in 2018, was detection of mycotoxins, mainly aflatoxins in figs and nuts from Egypt and Turkey.

The BVL also highlighted the issues of bitter apricot kernels with high amounts of hydrocyanic acid and food supplements with prohibited ingredients or ingredients at too high a level.

Apricot kernels contain high amounts of the natural ingredient amygdalin, which is converted to hydrocyanic acid during chewing and digestion and can lead to severe poisoning and even death.

The EU set a maximum level for hydrocyanic acid in apricot kernels sold to end users three years ago but 11 cases breaching this regulation were reported through RASFF in 2019.

In 2019, the number of notifications involving food supplements increased by 33 percent compared to the previous year. The main reason was the presence of unauthorized substances.

One problem repeatedly communicated was excessive intake of the cholesterol-lowering substance monacolin K from food supplements. Monacolin K occurs naturally in red yeast rice and is identical in structure and effect to the active ingredient lovastatin, which is used in prescription-only medicinal products and only under medical supervision.

Milkshake safety
Meanwhile, the BVL has also highlighted the safety of milkshakes and their ingredients during the hotter summer months.

In national monitoring during 2018, milkshakes offered in restaurants and ice cream parlors were examined for microbiological and hygienic properties. Results showed hygiene-relevant germs are common but pathogens were rarely detected.

Samples were assessed to guideline and warning values of the German Society for Hygiene and Microbiology (DGHM) for ice cream and whipped cream. Yeasts were most often detected and in 162 of 754 samples levels of more than 1,000 colony-forming units per gram (CFU/g) were found.

In 2.3 percent of samples tested, E. coli was detected in amounts higher than the warning value of 100 CFU/g. E. coli is considered an indicator of the fecal contamination of drinking water or food.

These findings suggest inadequate quality or incorrect storage of products used to make milkshakes. But other hygiene deficiencies involving the equipment or staff can also be the source.

In total, 32 of 739 milkshakes contained Bacillus cereus above the DGHM guideline value and eight had levels above the warning value of 1,000 CFU/g. Listeria monocytogenes was detected in another sample but below 100 CFU/g. Salmonella was not found in any samples.

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