The European Commission’s health and safety division has published findings from two assessments looking at controls on milk and dairy products in Austria and Slovakia.

A DG Sante audit in January 2023 made seven recommendations in Austria, including attention to raw milk.

Austrian legislation sets conditions for raw milk sold to consumers and prohibits sale of raw milk and cream to schools and crèches. Other catering companies can only use it after heat treatment.

The exchange of information between the veterinary service and public health service at state level has gaps that reduce the effectiveness of controls, said auditors.

Auditors found authorities do not keep business approvals under review in an effective manner, so are not aware of all changes in activities. For example, one site produced a non-dairy product, which was not included in the approval and the responsible authority was not aware of it.

Findings at site linked to raw milk outbreak
Methods for testing raw milk for antibiotic residues detect only a limited range and the way testing is implemented cannot guarantee that milk containing such residues is not being used to make dairy products for human consumption, said auditors.

DG Sante examined the file of a dairy plant linked to a Listeria outbreak in 2020 to 2022 with 10 cases and three deaths. Käserei Gloggnitz had a poor compliance history and an inspection in 2020 identified several major deficiencies. Results of an inspection one year later were equally serious.

However, those findings did not lead to an increased control frequency or enforcement until an epidemiological link between infections and the company was established in autumn 2022 and authorities ordered production to be stopped.

The audit team found shortcomings in official controls to verify the compliance and effectiveness of HACCP-based programs, especially in relation to Listeria and temperature requirements. Pest control programs were in place but in one site visited, auditors noted rodent droppings in a storage room. There were also some issues with traceability, labeling and identification marking of dairy products.

Slovakian assessment
A DG Sante audit in Slovakia in March 2023 found the system for official controls related to the safety of milk and dairy products was largely effective.

Raw milk can be sold to consumers by registered holdings that follow certain conditions and with a notice about boiling before consumption. There are 500 such operators in the country. Documented evidence was available of warning letters sent to farmers, and in all cases examined by the audit team, corrective measures taken at the holding level were effective.

At the time of the audit there was a shortage of qualified staff, mainly due to the wages offered despite an increased budget for recruitment. Officials told auditors that retired colleagues and staff on maternity leave had not been replaced. At one site, two official veterinarians were doing the job of six people. Prioritization of activities, joint inspections covering several topics and relaxing the frequency of certain official controls were among actions taken to deal with staff shortages.

In 2021, the number of establishments with shortcomings found after official controls was 55.

Food businesses did not always carry out sampling in five units, as required by EU regulation. Environmental monitoring did not follow the EURL guidelines. Of the sites visited, drains had never been sampled for Listeria monocytogenes, except at one factory. In one plant, drains had been sampled for Salmonella instead of Listeria.

The State Veterinary and Food Administration (SVPS) said training has been undertaken and a presentation given by the National Reference Laboratory for Listeria monocytogenes in the country to address these issues.

The audit team examined a case of Listeria monocytogenes detected in cheese made with raw sheep’s milk. The pathogen was found in four of five units of an official sample, and Staphylococcus aureus was detected above 50,000 units/g in three of five units. A ban on production and sale was imposed until satisfactory analytical results were received.

As Listeria monocytogenes was found in further samples, stricter measures were imposed on the company, which carried out cleaning and disinfection with different products before further samples were negative. Restrictions were lifted two months after the case was opened. After the incident, the firm changed the specification of CCPs, set new and stricter hygiene procedures for staff and provided training for employees.

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