Some products have gone through an English port without the necessary controls, according to the Food Standards Agency’s chief executive.

Emily Miles said the items came through the European Union to Great Britain from non-EU countries without checks since the start of this year.

“There have been a small number of imports that have come through Dover which is not a recognized border control post for sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) products and so the correct checks have not taken place on those imports. As far as we are aware there has been no evidence of risk to animal or public health and we consider this to be a business compliance issue. We think it’s only about 55 importers who’ve been doing it and 20 of those do about 90 percent of the products,” she said during the FSA’s board meeting this past week.

The goods are products of animal origin such as meat, eggs and milk and high risk food not of animal origin, which can be nuts or herbs from certain countries. They are supposed to come through other ports such as Felixstowe.

Progress toward solution
Miles said the FSA and local authorities are ensuring importers follow the correct procedures. This involves monitoring and tracing goods that have gone through this route and local authorities taking enforcement action on non-compliant consignments, including re-export or destruction.

Colin Sullivan, FSA chief operating officer, said there are capacity issues in terms of space at Dover.

“The goods transited through the EU to Great Britain require checks and shouldn’t be brought through Dover. In the longer term, there will be checks coming from the EU,” he said.

“We have been tracking the goods that haven’t been not pre-notified and have come through Dover. We have contacted all the importers involved and highlighted their goods are non-compliant and the bulk of those goods are now coming through other ports. We have largely dealt with the initial issue although we continue to track the data. Having spoken to importers the number of consignments coming through Dover are reducing significantly.”

Miles also covered the hepatitis A outbreak linked to dates from Jordan and a Salmonella outbreak traced to frozen raw breaded processed chicken products from Poland.

She noted the Salmonella Enteritidis outbreak situation was improving with 462 cases reported in 2020 but only 37 in 2021. There have been more than 50 product withdrawals. Investigations are continuing to look for the Polish sources of the two strains of Salmonella Enteritidis.

The FSA will also do a risk analysis following a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) opinion in early May saying that Titanium Dioxide (E171) is no longer safe. It is a food color used in a range of products to make them white. This is expected to lead to a ban in Europe.

Official vets, shellfish and NRL sale
Miles also spoke about the availability of official vets, seawater classification for shellfish beds and the possibility of Fera being sold.

Increased requirements for certification have put more demands on Official Veterinarian (OV) resources with further pressure on capacity expected when checks on EU imports are started.

FSA and Eville and Jones are tackling concerns on recruitment and retention of official veterinarian resources. Eville and Jones won a 3-year contract in 2020 to supply official control services in meat and dairy plants. The FSA agreed to provide additional funding of £136,000 ($192,500) monthly for up to 12 months to help address the issue of recruitment and retention of vets.

The EU does not allow import of live bivalve mollusks, such as oysters, clams and mussels, from class B waters unless they have been purified. Production areas are classified as A, B or C, with A as the least and C as the most contaminated. By May, the FSA revised classifications which allowed 20 harvesting areas to get Class A status for all or part of the year.

Fera Science is part of the UK’s national lab and science capability but is one of a number of businesses being divested by its owner, Capita.

The FSA relies on Fera as a national reference laboratory and a research contractor. Roles include supporting official control laboratories, providing expert testing capability, and generating evidence to support risk assessment and management

Miles said the likelihood of service to the FSA being disrupted at this stage is low.

“Having talked to Fera I am not concerned at the moment about the resilience of the network and whether we are going to lose access to particular sorts of checks. It is a slow burn process and I feel reasonably confident that we will continue to benefit from their service.”

Julie Pierce, director of openness, data and digital, said: “We are monitoring as far as we can where their plans are and we are considering any remedial action we might need to take. In our longer term plans we are looking at laboratory provision overall considering what our requirements are.”

Finally, FSA and Food Standards Scotland plan to produce an annual report on the UK’s food safety and standards. The first one is expected to focus on changes to food standards since the end of the EU exit transition period in Jan. 2021 and will be published around spring 2022.

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