The Czech Agriculture and Food Inspection Authority (SZPI) has revealed how inspectors had to focus more on online sales because of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

The agency did more than 1,000 inspections that focused on online sales from 616 firms at 806 establishments, according to its annual report. This was because of an increase in the turnover of e-shops with foodstuffs and the sale of food through social networks and online markets.

In 2020, officers carried out 56,781 inspections at food businesses, public catering facilities, customs warehouses and online shops. A total of 2,874 non-compliant batches of food and other products were found.

Starch and starch products were the top offending category followed by chocolate and confectionery, dehydrated products, liquid flavorings, dressings, salt and mustard, additives and flavorings, and non-alcoholic beverages.

Compliance with microbiological criteria was checked for 2,603 samples of foodstuffs, meals, ice, bottled water and swabs from equipment and objects. On-site inspections discovered 189 batches unfit for human consumption and 117 non-compliant samples were detected in laboratory tests. The greatest numbers of samples found to be unsafe were meat products, milk products and fresh vegetables.

Non-compliant highlights
Salmonella was discovered in five batches of meat-based semi-finished prepared food, in one lot of fresh chicken, and one batch of confectionery products. Listeria monocytogenes was found in one batch of delicatessen salad. Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) was detected in two batches of steak tartare from the market and one cold dish from a restaurant. Campylobacter was found in a warm pizza dish. One batch of frozen raspberries was contaminated with norovirus.

In total, 855 samples were taken to determine the level of pesticides. Above the limit amounts were found in 19 samples of green teas, mandarins, peppers and parsley. Two samples of pistachios and peanuts had an above-limit value for the sum of aflatoxins B1, B2, G1 and G2.

The first reports of ethylene oxide in sesame seeds from India were recorded in RASFF with analyzed values that exceeded the limit by more than 100, and sometimes even 400 times.

In a targeted inspection, 10 batches of sesame seed were taken, of which nine originated in India and one from Mozambique. Six batches from India were unsatisfactory and lab analysis revealed ethylene oxide in the samples. Where above-limit findings were discovered, operators had to analyze all further batches of sesame seed received for the next two months.

Almost 2,500 administrative proceedings were taken with businesses and fines totaling nearly 96.6 million Czech Koruna ($4.6 million) were imposed. A reprimand was handed out in 253 cases.

Online inspections
An inspection of online sales of meat products took 14 samples from nine outlets. Deficiencies found included missing information regarding storage conditions or incorrect country of origin of the food.

More inspections were carried out on food sales via the Internet, particularly for foodstuffs that claimed to have positive effects regarding the treatment of COVID-19.

As part of an EU-wide operation on claims made on food about treating or preventing COVID-19 infection, Czech inspectors found 87 violations of the rules. This was based on notifications or searches for non-compliant websites. The majority of illegal offers and advertising concerned food supplements.

Failure of catering operators to correctly inform consumers about allergens was identified during 108 inspections. Inspectors carried out 19 food business audits out of the planned 85.

A total of 2,767 notifications were distributed through the RASFF national contact point: 279 original notifications concerning the Czech Republic and 2,488 additional pieces of information. The Czech Republic sent 70 original notifications.

In total, 195 notifications and 357 related requests, information notifications and responses were distributed through the Administrative Assistance and Cooperation online tool in 2020. Out of the notifications, 49 cases were sent from the Czech Republic and 146 cases were received from other member states.

“Despite the unpredictable events and difficult working conditions in 2020, we can state that the results of our work were not affected fundamentally in a negative way. However, the priorities, inspection techniques and approaches changed, and this fact is demonstrated by the data in the 2020 annual report,” said Martin Klanica, SZPI director general.

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