The European Commission’s health and safety unit has found significant problems with Bulgaria’s control system for live bivalve mollusks.
A remote DG Sante audit from April to May 2023 revealed the majority of requirements in EU legislation were not being met.
Auditors found no system of official controls on bivalve mollusks and marine gastropods from classified production areas and outside them until harvesting or landing. There was no monitoring of production areas for microbiological, chemical contaminants, or biotoxins.
There are some checks in establishments at the final product level, but without primary production controls, they are insufficient to provide adequate food safety assurances, said DG Sante.
National reference laboratories for E. coli and biotoxins could support the official control of primary production of bivalve mollusks when these checks are implemented.
Lack of controls at primary production
The Bulgarian Food Safety Agency (BABH) has a sampling program on final products of bivalve mollusks’ origin, either at the establishment or retail level. Official mussels and wedge clam samples are tested for biotoxins at the NRL and for E. coli and Salmonella at regional official control labs. Non-compliant results trigger the recall and withdrawal of the batch tested.
Bulgaria has not named the authority or authorities responsible for organizing or performing official controls and other official activities at primary production in the sector. The location and boundaries of production areas have not been fixed, and the country has not conducted sanitary surveys.
Regarding volumes and trade, there are 5,000 tons per year of rapana seasnail, mainly exported to Asia, 2,000 tons per year of aquaculture mussels, mostly for the domestic market, and an average of 400 tons per year of wedge clams, largely sent to other EU member states.
BABH requires all bivalve mollusks to be purified before being placed on the market, which could mitigate potential microbiological contamination depending on the initial load and the appropriateness of treatment, said auditors.
Bulgarian officials said a working group with all responsible institutions will be convened to organize and distribute official controls on bivalve mollusks in line with EU requirements.
A previous EU Commission report found controls on bivalve mollusks in EU countries are not always adequate to protect consumer health.
U.S. and Canada under the microscope
The EU Commission has also published its audit and controls work program for 2024.
Audits on fishery product safety will occur in the United States and Canada. EU officials will also visit Canada to look at the production hygiene of live bivalve mollusks.
In 2024, there are 234 planned controls, with 134 audits to assess control systems at the country level. Other activities include looking at the sustainable use of pesticides and management of the Better Training for Safer Food program.
The United Kingdom will receive an audit on the safety of milk and dairy products for human consumption.
An audit on the microbiological safety of food of non-animal origin will take place in Uganda, and one on bivalve mollusk hygiene will be held in New Zealand. Brazil, China, Colombia, Egypt, India, Iran, Mexico, and Peru are among other non-EU countries set to receive audits.
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