Iceland has been told to improve official controls on ready-to-eat food by the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

The EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) monitors compliance with European Economic Area (EEA) rules in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

The ESA assessed how Iceland meets EEA hygiene requirements for ready-to-eat (RTE) food such as smoked salmon, salami and cheeses during an audit in March this year.

Resource issues and follow-up timeline
Auditors found Iceland has a risk based system to deliver official controls in plants producing RTE foods, which is generally effective. However, there is a lack of resources to perform inspections and long intervals are given to businesses to implement corrective measures. They said this may increase the risk of unsafe food being placed on the market as not all non-compliances are detected and dealt with in a timely manner.

“Iceland needs to ensure adequate time and resources are available for food safety inspections. Additionally, food businesses should be given stricter deadlines, to remedy any problems identified during inspection,” according to the audit report.

In the past three years there has been a reduction in the number of inspection hours delivered by the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), in the meat and milk products sector, compared to planned hours. However, in the fishery products sector, there has been an increase in inspection hours delivered.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic only one site visit at a fishery products establishment took place. Meetings were conducted with two meat products companies and one dairy, salad and sandwich producer, catering firm and a National Reference Laboratory (NRL).

Reaction to issues raised during audit
In the fishery product plant visited the audit team saw examples of non-compliance such as storage of packaging bearing identification marks from a different establishment, co-mingling of animal by-products (ABPs) and food, co-mingling of food with product more than a year beyond its expiry date and a lack of traceability on certain products.

Storage of packaging with the identification mark from a different site had been detected by the authority more than five weeks previously and had not been addressed. A non-compliance item related to traceability had been recorded at a previous inspection more than one year earlier.

“In this case, the severity was assessed in the manner that there was no immediate food safety risk for consumers. Generally, if a non-compliance has not been corrected at the time of the next inspection visit, the food business operator in question will get a serious non-compliance and a drop in performance category,” said MAST, adding the firm is no longer operating.

“A non-compliance regarding traceability was made in an inspection on June 21, 2019, where products were stored unmarked. On a visit from Oct. 2, 2019 this is said to be corrected. Subsequently, in the next three inspections on our behalf no remarks are made on traceability. So no remarks were made for some time and then unfortunately this goes wrong again.”

Listeria sampling
The most recent inspection report for one establishment, operating since 2018, recorded no written procedures for traceability or for product recall and that a HACCP system was not yet implemented. These were not considered as serious deviations and the authority planned to check the non-compliances at the next inspection.

MAST said this has been corrected through use of the Isleyfur computerized inspection system.

One food firm met by the audit team submitted two rather than five units to constitute a sample for Listeria monocytogenes testing. This is not in compliance with EU regulation but had not been detected during official controls and had been ongoing for at least two years.

In response, MAST said it was reviewing the Listeria sampling guidelines for food businesses.

“Appropriate frequency of sampling and correct number of units forming a sample for analysis of Listeria monocytogenes, will be clearly stated in the guidelines. The main rule will continue to be that five units are needed to make up a sample for analysis of Listeria monocytogenes.”

MAST said if fewer than five units are accepted for sampling, companies will have to demonstrate with historical data they have an effective HACCP system in line with EU rules. This will be verified by a visit to go through all the issues in the HACCP section of the inspection manual.

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