Border controls, recalls and inspection data are some of the highlights from the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) 2023 annual report.

In 2023, 47 percent of the NVWA’s capacity was focused on food safety supervision. Supporters include third parties, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport (VWS), and the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV). Work is divided across eight areas with most efforts in the meat supply chain. A start has been made on setting up food safety supervision at primary agricultural companies.

NVWA said the number of reports from EU member states, companies and consumers about potentially unsafe food and feed is increasing. To cope with this demand, the agency is using a methodology that allows prioritization of reports based on the risk.

NVWA is looking at how to monitor food safety culture and the use of sensor technology and artificial intelligence for smarter oversight of slaughterhouses. An event was held in February 2024 on the topic of modern inspections and new technology.

Fraud, recalls and border checks
Two fraud cases investigated by the Intelligence and Investigation Service (NVWA-IOD) involved suspected falsification of documents and in the provision of information related to a meat recall as well as tampering with information when exporting chicken meat with the aim of reducing import duties in the country of destination.

There were 125 alerts published relating to unsafe food products. Almost half of these recalls were because of undeclared allergens, while 27 were because of bacteria and other agents, and 19 because of foreign object contamination.

In 2023, the volume of animals and animal products that entered the EU via the Netherlands decreased but import volume of non-animal food increased. The number of shipments refused for import or transit was 731 for products of animal origin and 225 for food and feed of non-animal origin.

Of all customer contacts received, 3,382 related to possible food poisoning in sectors such as catering. People also reported unsafe products, suspicions of animal neglect, and hygiene issues in the catering industry via social media.

In 2023, NVWA carried out 33,657 inspections at 16,028 companies, which is down slightly from 2022. In 2023, some form of action was imposed on 7,364 companies. Almost 18,500 inspections took place in catering establishments.

More than 6,500 companies were checked for complying with the rules on providing allergen information. Compliance was slightly higher than previous years at 44.4 percent. During the re-inspections that followed, improved compliance was noted, up to 68.2 percent. Compliance with allergen information for non-prepackaged foodstuffs improved compared to 2022 for catering firms.

In hospitality, emergency closures increased in autumn and were often related to pests. With the change in legislation on Integrated Pest Management (IPM) as of late December 2023, inspectors were further trained on this subject with an expanded project in 2024.

Twenty slaughterhouses were discussed in enforcement meetings. Of these, seven ended up in the enhanced supervision route. Of the 20 slaughterhouses, three surrendered their accreditation, which means they can no longer slaughter animals.

Public poll findings
A survey in the Netherlands found consumer confidence in food safety had fallen in the period from 2021 to 2023.

A total of 3,694 consumers participated in NVWA’s consumer monitor via an online questionnaire in January 2023. Respondents indicated to what extent they agreed with different statements on a scale of 1 to 5.

Average scores for “foods are becoming safer,” “in general there are few risks associated with food” and “I am optimistic about food safety” all fell. The percentage that agreed or completely agreed foods are safe was still 81 percent and 67 percent were satisfied with food safety.

In 2021, half of respondents said food was becoming safer while 44 percent agreed with this in 2023. One in five are worried about the safety of foods and 14 percent said their confidence in food safety had fallen in the past six months.

Participants were also asked about the safety of 21 different product groups. Based on a scale of 1 to 5, consumers had the most trust in fruit and vegetables and the least in ready meals. However, confidence in safety declined for the majority of products including nuts, cheese, eggs, fish, and meat substitutes.

Respondents had the most confidence in food safety information provided by consumer association Consumentenbond, TV shows such as Radar, as well as farm shops and specialty stores. NVWA and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) rank in the middle of trusted groups while social media and food manufacturers are at the bottom.

Overall confidence in the government regarding food safety dropped between 2021 and 2023. Openness about food safety is once again rated lowest, with only a quarter of people agreeing with this statement.

From a list of 30 topics, participants were mainly concerned about food waste, microplastics, hormones in meat and substances such as PFAS and dioxins.

More than 1 in 5 respondents remembered an incident in the past year in which the safety of food was at risk or trust was impacted. This is up from 2021 but down from 2019. Bird flu was the top mentioned incident but fipronil in eggs was also flagged by 8 percent despite this occurring in 2017 and 2018.

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