The European Commission’s health and safety unit has published two reports examining milk and dairy product controls in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Greece.

An audit in Bosnia and Herzegovina in June 2023 by DG Sante found major issues with controls on products intended for export to Europe, and six recommendations were made.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is authorized to import certain consignments of milk and dairy products derived from raw milk into the EU. It also has an approved control plan for pharmacologically active substances, pesticides, and contaminants in milk.

The visit revealed authorities do not have established procedures to allow effective cooperation and coordination, including planning and reporting of results of official controls, enforcement and follow-up. However, this is partly mitigated due to regular controls by the main authority at EU-listed establishments.

As the national requirement for milk collection centers to be registered is not consistently enforced, raw milk sourced from non-registered and non-approved sites is used to make products destined for the EU, said auditors.

They also found raw milk criteria for plate count or somatic cell count are not enforced consistently, resulting in the acceptance of non-compliant raw milk for processing dairy products.

Bosnian authorities suspended the certification of one of the three establishments visited after the auditor identified that non-compliant milk was routinely processed into dairy products for export to the EU. This issue had been found in three consecutive audits by the central authority but had not been identified or properly enforced by any local authority or official veterinarian. The suspension was in place until proper segregation of compliant and non-compliant milk was applied and verified by the main authority.

Greek findings

The DG Sante audit in Greece in March 2023 said there was an adequate framework for official controls, but 10 recommendations were made. National rules require the pasteurization of milk and cream before placing them on the market for direct human consumption and of milk used to produce cheese.

Official controls are planned on a risk basis. However, they are impacted by weaknesses in access to a sufficient number of trained staff, coordination between authorities, approvals of establishments, actions when non-compliances are identified, and verification of the effectiveness of controls.

Some documents stated establishments were approved for activities they were not performing. Most firms visited had either not told the authorities of significant changes in activity or the notifications had been submitted after years of use of the new equipment or facilities.

In one region, the official control carried out by the Hellenic Food Authority (EFET), following the approval of a new establishment, identified several non-compliances that triggered administrative and criminal proceedings and the site was eventually closed.

“The long timeframes for the first official control after approval – coupled with the fact that the competent authorities do not always see the establishments in operation before approval – may lead to a delayed detection of inadequate food business operator practices and new facilities being in operation without timely and adequate competent authority controls,” said the audit report.

Controls of dairy establishments were satisfactory in some aspects. However, they were ineffective in identifying hygiene shortcomings and did not require the business to put in place measures to prevent the reoccurrence of minor problems.

EFET took 224 samples of dairy products for analysis from 2019 to 2021. Two were non-compliant, one due to Listeria monocytogenes in a cheese sample and the other due to Staphylococcus aureus.

Five alerts related to milk and dairy products of Greek origin were notified in RASFF between 2019 and 2022. The audit team reviewed two cases issued after detecting pathogens in cheese. A delay in communication to local levels was noted.

In one case, the authority did not allow the company to analyze the root cause. The authority also considered other final products as not being able to support the growth of Listeria, although the company had not been asked to demonstrate this.

In the other case, auditors said recalled products were placed on the internal market following the company’s negative Shiga toxin-producing E. coli test results, which does not cater to the uneven distribution of microbiological contamination.

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