The number of food and feed risk notices reported by EU countries to the European Commission fell by more than 6 percent in 2020, according to an annual report.

In 2020, there were 3,862 original notifications sent through the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) compared to 4,118 in 2019.

The number of alert notifications, implying a serious health risk of a product, rose by 22 percent to almost 1,400. It is the sixth year in a row the figure has gone up.

The decline in border rejection notifications of 30 percent to about 1,000 reflects the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on global trade, said EU officials.

Seventy notifications were triggered by a food poisoning event. From 40 on foodborne outbreaks, 15 identified Salmonella as the probable cause, 10 were linked to norovirus, five were about Listeria monocytogenes and four about histamine poisoning.

A joint notification summary, which is not made public, summarizes smaller scale multi-country outbreaks with a brief assessment by ECDC and EFSA. In 2020, these included a cluster of Salmonella Dublin infections, a cluster/outbreak of Salmonella Agona linked to kebab meat, Salmonella Enteritidis linked to poultry products, a cluster of Listeria monocytogenes traced to salmon products from Lithuania, and a cluster of Listeria infections linked to salmon from Poland, France and possibly Germany.

Most non-compliant products from India
Germany reported the most items again in 2020 with 531 followed by the Netherlands, the UK, Italy, Belgium, France and Bulgaria. As of this year, the UK lost access to the main RASFF portal. Close to 500 notifications concerned India, almost 400 for products from Turkey, more than 200 for China while the U.S. had 161 and Brazil was behind more than 100 notifications.

Netherlands topped the list by notifying country when combined with a product category due to ethylene oxide in nuts, nut products and seeds, while notices for aflatoxins in this product group dropped to third from first in 2019. Second in 2020 was Bulgaria for pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables. Poland, Lithuania, Italy and France all made the top 10 for alerts related to Salmonella in poultry meat products.

Reports by country of origin were dominated by ethylene oxide in sesame seeds from India and Salmonella in poultry meat from Poland. Pesticide residues in fruit and vegetables from Turkey was third. Aflatoxins in nut products and seeds from the United States also made the top 10.

Pesticide residue notifications for products originating from member states went up almost 500 percent to 166, mainly because of the ethylene oxide incident as sesame seeds were used as ingredients in a variety of products.

Pesticides also topped the hazards from non-EU countries with 667 reports, which is up 164 percent, largely due to ethylene oxide. Other findings included chlorpyrifos and pyridaben in fruit and vegetables.

Belgium’s first report in September 2020 was followed by another 315 until the end of 2020. Reports are continuing into 2021 and cover other items such as turmeric, ginger, psyllium, okra, dried shallots, rice or tea, food supplements and the food additive locust bean gum.

Pathogen warnings rise
There was a 37 percent increase in warnings on pathogenic microorganisms in food from EU countries in 2020 to 788 compared to 2019, which had already seen another rise from 2018.

Salmonella was the most frequently reported pathogen in food from member states with 537 notifications. There were 273 notices for poultry products from Poland. About half of these concerned Salmonella Enteritidis. Sixteen operators had recurrent issues.

Listeria monocytogenes was reported on 13 occasions in cold fish products from Poland and the same number of times in cheese from France. The number of norovirus reports doubled to 50 with 27 because of live oysters in France. E. coli alerts mainly dealt with meat products and cheeses.

Pathogens in products from non-EU countries were behind 289 reports and mainly were for Salmonella in black pepper from Brazil and the same agent in sesame seeds from various origins.

Mycotoxin reports fell by 23 percent to 400. Most of these involved aflatoxin in dried figs from Turkey and groundnuts from the U.S. Almost 200 controls on the market involved allergens while 81 border checks raised suspicions of adulteration or fraud on nuts and seeds, fruits, vegetables and fish products.

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