Audits in Luxembourg and Hungary have found positives in the system for meat controls but also areas that need addressing in both countries.

The DG Sante audit in Luxembourg in May 2023 assessed the official controls related to slaughter hygiene and meat inspection requirements. The visit found official controls are delivered at the established frequency and generally cover the relevant aspects.

Weaknesses included the inability to impose fines. This is a longstanding issue, identified in previous audits, that limits the efficiency of official controls, especially when food businesses do not resolve non-compliances by the deadlines imposed.

A solution to the national legislation not providing the possibility for the authority to impose fines has been in preparation for several years and a draft bill was being studied at the time of the audit. This new law proposal foresees administrative sanctions for all the legislation that could be applied following the first official control.

Issues going undetected
The Luxembourg Veterinary and Food Administration (ALVA) was created in 2022 and is responsible for official controls at slaughterhouses.

Auditors said the guidance and procedures available to official veterinarians (OVs) were limited in some areas, which does not ensure that all the points are supervised and results in problems around consistency of controls.

Supervision and identification of training needs are not adequate and, as a result, some OVs were not able to identify certain operational hygiene non-compliances or enforce their correction.

The audit team saw evidence of OVs not identifying some non-compliances, so not enforcing them, and examples of unsatisfactory action when the company did not provide a solution by the agreed date. In some cases, the only measures taken by the authority was to extend the deadline. In several cases, the actions taken to ensure the firm resolved a non-compliance did not consider the root cause of the issue.

Auditors observed that the line speed, the layout of inspection points and the positioning of official staff made it difficult to inspect the lower parts of the beef carcass for contamination in two red meat sites.

They also found that sampling programs were not fully in line with legislation and one establishment did not have a procedure in place to explain what to do in case of positive Salmonella results.

Hungary findings
The audit in Hungary in September 2023 found the overall system could provide reassurances that official controls for red meat and poultry meat were delivered as intended but there were also several weaknesses and five recommendations were made.

Of 430 red meat approved slaughterhouses in the country, 18 applied the derogation of the timing of post-mortem inspection (PMI) and 96 where PMI is carried out under the responsibility of the official veterinarian (OV).

During preparation for the audit, authorities found that some sites were not in compliance with EU legislation as their annual throughput was above the permitted threshold for these derogations. Authorities took action to address this issue during the audit.

Frequency of official inspections in slaughterhouses is decided following a risk analysis carried out by the National Food Chain Safety Office (NÉBIH). This does not take into account an operator’s past record based on previous official controls and their level of compliance, said auditors.

In response, Hungarian officials said checklists at slaughterhouses will be renewed and any deficiencies will be weighted so that the following year’s inspection plan can account for the previous year’s non-compliances, the outcome of official controls and the level of compliance.

The current system does not provide the authority with a reasonable level of confidence that controls at establishment level are carried out correctly, uniformly and consistently and that non-compliances are identified and corrective action taken when necessary, found the report.

In some establishments, a number of non-compliances identified by the audit team had not been recognized by the resident OVs during their daily presence at the slaughterhouse nor identified during the annual inspection, so no enforcement had been applied to resolve the issues.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)