NORWAY – Norway has been advised to reinforce controls following audits conducted in 2022 that looked at the poultry meat products and imports of food and feed of non-animal origin sectors.
The audit team comprised two auditors from the EFTA Surveillance Authority and an observer from the Health and Food Audits and Analysis Directorate (Directorate F) of the Directorate General Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE) of the European Commission.
Norway is part of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). The country’s compliance with EEA regulations on the safety of food and feed as well as animal health and welfare is monitored by the EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA).
According to the audit on products of non-animal origin (PNAO), Norway’s system is founded on sufficient documents, identification, and physical checks carried out by qualified and experienced people. Nuts, fruits, vegetables, and spices are examples of PNAO.
Two of the border control posts (BCP) that were visited had buildings and equipment that weren’t appropriate for the types and quantities of some of the commodities processed. As a result, formal controls were carried out elsewhere.
The researchers claimed that the integrity of samples could be compromised since the locations used for carrying out activities, including sampling, did not meet the basic requirements.
The Norwegian Food Safety Authority (Mattilsynet) and Norwegian Customs work together to identify and subject PNAO to the appropriate checks when they are subject to temporary increases in official controls or emergency measures.
Operators routinely notify the BCP of imports well in advance of arrival, according to the evidence presented. Mattilsynet writes to the operators in case of non-compliance.
Staff at the BCPs visited said it is rare that the arrival of consignments is not pre-notified.
The report also states that 14 shipments were rejected in 2021 compared to 8 in 2020. Meanwhile, 19 consignments were rejected in Oslo airport in 2021 compared to 11 in 2020.
Although there were documented procedures, they weren’t always up to date, didn’t include all official controls, and weren’t always followed.
According to auditors, this might result in the inconsistent application of legal standards.
Auditors met staff from a contracted private laboratory that acts as the official lab for aflatoxins, ochratoxin A, and ethylene oxide analysis. The lab sends samples to a subcontractor in another country, which has not been named as an official laboratory by Mattilsynet.
However, the government of the nation in which it is located has listed it as an official laboratory.
The National Reference Laboratory (NRL) said accreditation for aflatoxins and ochratoxin A is not expected until 2023.
As per the auditors, a lack of accreditation at the NRL could jeopardize claims that only safe PNAO is coming into Norway from abroad and being sold there.
Heightened official controls necessary
The second audit revealed that a framework for risk-based official controls in chicken slaughter and at processing facilities is still being established. The use of the risk-based model is not mandatory.
The audit team saw instances where the calculated frequency of controls had been reduced at the regional level, and local staff members explained this as being due to resource limitations.
As not all non-compliances relating to general hygiene issues, infrastructure, and animal by-products (ABPs) are being recognized, auditors concluded that controls do not ensure that hygiene regulations are satisfied at poultry processing facilities.
This could make it more likely that hazardous substances will infiltrate the human food chain.
The audit team observed instances of poor wastewater control in processing areas, problems with shoddy building maintenance, infrastructure like missing wall paneling and peeling paint, and personal hygiene issues like wearing outside clothing in production areas without wearing personal protective equipment (PPE).
Animal by-products (ABP) non-compliances included ABPs stored in the same chiller as food for human consumption or kept outdoors uncovered, insufficient separation of equipment used to store ABP and food for human consumption in processing facilities, and a lack of labeling on packaging or containers holding ABPs.
In most poultry facilities, slaughterhouse employees conduct post-mortem examinations under the direction of official veterinarians (OVs) and official auxiliaries (OAs). They do not perform other official control tasks like sampling.
With a nationwide control scheme in place, the frequency of Salmonella and Campylobacter sampling in slaughterhouses has decreased, said the auditors.
Authorities do not, however, check to see if slaughterhouses adhere to the process hygiene criteria for Campylobacter in broiler carcasses, reports Food Safety News.
Although departmental guidance has been developed, it frequently lacks detail or is inconsistent across regions. According to the auditors, this degrades the reliability and consistency of formal controls.
Mattilsynet said that updated guidelines and training on slaughter hygiene for white meat will be available in 2023. However, there have been occasional delays due to renovations and restructuring work.
“We have several ongoing initiatives that will contribute to ensuring effectiveness of official controls. This year we have allocated resources to collect, analyze and use data in a better way to work with the effectiveness of official controls.
“Hopefully, we will have procedures and arrangements in place to ensure the effectiveness of official control with effect from 2024,” said the regulator.
The last audit with a similar scope was carried out by the EFTA in Norway in 2012, covering the application of EEA legislation related to official controls on food hygiene and import controls of food of non-animal origin.
Since then, there have been changes to the legislation and the control system in Norway.