Food safety – a priority in the EU and beyond
In 2009 the number of notifications in the EU's Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) reached a total of nearly 8000, a 12% increase compared to 2008 and an all-time-high number. There were 557 alert notifications reporting on serious risks found in products on the market, of which two-thirds related to products originating in the EU, and most of these problems were detected by controls carried out on the market. Among the risks most reported through these alerts were the presence of pathogenic micro-organisms, allergens, heavy metals and mycotoxins. While the national authorities are responsible for the appropriate implementation of food safety legislation and controls, the JRC's EU Reference laboratories (EU-RL) in this field play a leading role in maintaining a high level of confidence in the measurements and ensuring a harmonised approach between EU Member States, industry and stakeholders.
38% of border rejections concerned products refused entry because of too high levels of mycotoxins - toxic metabolites produced by fungi growing in food and animal feed. The EU-RL for mycotoxins, run by the JRC Institute for Reference Materials and Measurements, co-ordinates activities related to the development and improvement of methods of analysis for the official control of the maximum levels. Working together with appointed national reference laboratories of the EU Member States, it develops analytical approaches and validates them in-house. In case a method is suitable and robust enough, the EU-RL organises an international collaborative study to validate the method and to assess the method performance. Furthermore, interlaboratory comparisons organised by the EU-RL enable national labs to assess their performance and allow improving the overall correctness of analytical results for mycotoxins.
On behalf of the European Commission's Directorate General for Health and Consumers, the JRC is currently managing six EU-RLs. These are located in the Institute for Reference Materials and Measurements (IRMM) in Geel, Belgium and the Institute for Health and Consumer Protection (IHCP) in Ispra, Italy.