An audit on the microbial safety of food of non-animal origin in Romania has noted progress but found that there are still some problems.

The DG Sante audit in late January to early February was based on a review of documentation and discussions with representatives of authorities via video-conference with onsite verification not possible because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It evaluated the system of official controls to prevent microbiological contamination in food of non-animal origin (FNAO) before, during and after harvest.

Out of three recommendations from a previous audit in 2016 on the same topic, the National Sanitary Veterinary and Food Safety Authority (NSVFSA) has resolved one and partly addressed the other two suggestions.

Focus on primary producers
Romanian legislation excludes primary producers supplying small quantities of FNAO vegetable products from official controls but this is not based on EU rules.

Controls were only done on primary producers of soft fruits and vegetables that store or process FNAO. There were 77 producers registered in 2020 and 69 inspections were carried out. Ten non-compliances were detected concerning missing water analysis; pest control; lack of procedures and records on sanitation; and analytical reports in the own-control program not being available. However, no non-conformities were reported related to checks before or during harvest.

DG Sante found the control system is weakened as information available on most primary producers is insufficient to take into account higher risks of microbiological contamination of certain produce. This is coupled with the fact that inspections on FNAO microbiological risks do not cover the pre-harvest and harvest stages of the majority of producers. These gaps affect the system’s capability to identify non-compliance and to enforce corrective actions in the largest group of producers, according to the audit.

Romanian officials said a draft act proposes controls of primary production at the pre-harvest, harvesting and post-harvest stages and the exclusion of small vegetable producers will be removed.

Systems used for primary producers until the end of 2020 were judged by auditors as not suitable for planning official controls on a risk-basis and with the frequency set in EU regulation. New databases for registration at county level are in development and were expected to be finalized in February 2021.

Listeria lapses
The audit found the supervision system was not able to identify non-compliances with EU legislation for seeds in sprout-producing sites and Listeria environmental sampling. Shortcomings were noted in sprouting establishments in relation to verification of compliance with traceability, import certificates and frequency of own microbiological analyses.

In 2020, there were 22 registered firms freezing berries, eight freezing vegetables, four washing salads to be eaten raw and five dealing with pre-cut vegetables to be eaten raw. In total, 49 inspections were planned and 45 were carried out, identifying eight shortcomings such as hygienic and sanitary conditions; incomplete HACCP sheets; and lack of temperature and humidity monitoring.

The audit team noted that inspectors are not sufficiently aware of businesses’ own controls regarding Listeria monocytogenes, and are not trained to assess these effectively. FNAO inspectors do not check if firms have an environmental sampling plan and effective procedures to detect Listeria.

They found inspectors have not received guidance to perform Listeria monocytogenes environmental tests and verify if and how firms carry out such sampling to investigate occurrence in their plants.

In one case, a laboratory informed the authority of non-compliant results of controls because of Listeria monocytogenes in frozen produce. The authority didn’t tell the food business to perform a root cause analysis.

The authority took six samples of produce, five environmental samples on the production line after cleaning and one sample in the field. Two of the six product samples were positive for Listeria. The firm destroyed the batch but the source of contamination was not identified.

Romanian officials said the PROFEL guide on the control of Listeria monocytogenes has been applied and related training organized to improve the situation.

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