Some inspections of businesses are not being carried out at the correct frequency, according to the Swiss Federal Audit Office.

Auditors found national authorities in Switzerland are not ensuring that local agencies check food firms often enough. The audit was in March and April 2022 and five recommendations have been made.

Authorities are responsible for official risk-based inspections, which are conducted by the cantonal chemists. They carry out about 40,000 inspections at businesses each year. The Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office (FSVO), with the Federal Food Chain Unit (FFCU), monitors and coordinates the implementation of the legislation. Switzerland is made up of 26 regions called cantons.

The Swiss Federal Audit Office examined the effectiveness and scope of the FSVO’s supervision of foodstuffs. It looked at checks on cantonal enforcement authorities and their effects. They found consistency between cantonal authorities could be improved by developing common checklists.

Data quality and resource issues
The FSVO’s approach focuses on food safety issues in Switzerland as a whole rather than on implementation at the regional level. For example, a lack of complete and reliable data means the agency does not ensure that cantonal authorities comply with the prescribed intervals between official company inspections.

The Swiss Federal Audit Office said data provided by cantonal enforcement authorities for 2017 to 2021 shows the average control interval in years is always greater than it should be and data is sometimes “not plausible.” This varied between the category of company and region.

While inspections at firms in the production and sale at the farm category should be every four years, data showed the average was almost 13 years. Caterers should be checked every two years but the average was nearly eight years.

Cantonal chemists said the non-achievement of control interval requirements is mainly due to the limited resources of inspection personnel so they are concentrated on high-risk outlets.

From 2023, cantonal enforcement authorities will have to transfer control data online directly into the FSVO’s information system, which is expected to improve data quality.

Regional differences
Auditors found no targets for product inspections such as frequency of laboratory analysis of samples have been set, despite the importance of this type of control.

In response, FSVO said it would indicate, as an objective to cantons, the number of samples to be analyzed annually per 1,000 inhabitants. The agency added samples should be taken where risks are suspected and not to meet quotas. The type and number of samples may also depend on regional factors.

Cantonal laboratories carry out sample analyses and FSVO has no responsibility for their organization. The analytical skills of these labs cover regional needs and depend on financial resources. Investments are not made in tests that are not done regularly. If there is a lack of expertise in a cantonal chemist’s lab, another one can be approached. However, it is not possible to determine whether the cantons’ analytical skills meet national needs and if the organization is efficient, found the report.

The Federal Food Chain Unit (FFCU) carries out audits and investigations on behalf of the FSVO to ensure that national requirements are implemented by enforcement authorities.

Auditors said there is no oversight of compliance with the intervals for official company inspections. They also found the average annual interval between inspections is always longer than that set in legislation.

The FFCU makes recommendations to enforcement authorities and follows them up. However, sanctions are not possible when a cantonal enforcement authority does not take corrective action.

Consumers can find out about warnings and product recalls on the RecallSwiss website since late 2020. It is a new site and not yet well known but officials are trying to increase awareness and frequency of use.

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