A survey in Germany has found the majority of consumers want more transparency on the results of food inspections.

The poll, on behalf of the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (VZBV), revealed 88 percent of those surveyed would support a food monitoring system that used smiley faces or other methods like traffic light colors. It included more than 1,000 people aged 14 and above questioned by phone in June this year.

Currently, results of food inspectors do not have to be published automatically.

Based on the results, VZBV called for a nationwide transparency system and said the topic should be on the agenda of the next federal government. It added such a system should be compulsory, easy to understand and published online and offline to ensure companies stuck to the rules at all times.

The hygiene barometer recently introduced in Berlin is heading in the right direction, but VZBV said it was still “insufficient.”

Push to create national system
Almost nine in 10 people considered the subject of hygiene and cleanliness in restaurants and food processing companies to be very important. However, 49 percent felt they were poorly informed about it.

Overall, 88 percent would like the results of the food controls to be published online or near the front doors of establishments.

In Germany, the number of food controls fell by 19 percent between 2007 and 2019, according to data from the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL). VZBV also criticized the fact that authorities are often not adequately equipped. It said on average, every third food inspection in Germany is canceled.

In a report, the organization gives an overview of the experiences of other countries with transparency systems such as a smiley face for good inspection results. It cites the example of Denmark, claiming the system introduced in 2003 with three levels has led to improved results of food controls so better cleanliness in businesses.

The Oiva system in Finland has four smiley levels from excellent to bad. The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is from zero to 5. The DineSafe model in Toronto has green, yellow and red while New York’s system is from A to C.

VZBV said despite different methods, the efforts have helped boost consumer confidence in the safety of food and improved hygiene in establishments.

Earlier this year, VZBV welcomed changes to the food and feed code made by the German federal parliament but said they did not go far enough on transparency and traceability.

The group said the rules around informing about food controls and breaches of hygiene standards were not adequate but creation of powers for anonymous sampling would help authorities control online trade.

Early warning system tested
Meanwhile, an expanded test of a tool to anticipate food safety and fraud issues is being run in the country.

A total of 28 authorities from 15 federal states and two federal authorities are examining using the early warning system in official food monitoring with the help of the Bavarian State Office for Health and Food Safety (LGL) and BVL.

The ISAR-Tool (Import Screening for the Anticipation of Food Risks) helps to analyze the volume, origin and price of about 2,500 different foods from 240 countries imported to Germany. It has been operated by the LGL and BVL since 2018 and further developed with the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München.

There is an automated analysis of the data to detect unexpected changes in import volumes and prices. Although many changes are not linked to fraud or safety issues some are selected for further expert evaluation. One example of an identified risk was detecting adulteration of hazelnut products with almonds and cashews, which was associated to the observed all-time high in hazelnut prices.

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