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Eurosurveillance, Volume 8, Issue 50, 08 December 2004
Articles

Citation style for this article: Elson R. Overview of incoming changes to European food safety and hygiene legislation. Euro Surveill. 2004;8(50):pii=2599. Available online: http://www.eurosurveillance.org/ViewArticle.aspx?ArticleId=2599

Overview of incoming changes to European food safety and hygiene legislation

Richard Elson (richard.elson@hpa.org.uk), Environmental and Enteric Diseases Department, Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre, Health Protection Agency Centre for Infections, United Kingdom.

Over the next two years, a number of legislative requirements and changes are being introduced across Europe that aim to improve food safety and hygiene.

The new legislation builds upon existing European laws, recognising that certain requirements apply to all food businesses, and that specific requirements are needed for certain foods and businesses. The legislation repeals some former requirements. There are Regulations (legally binding in all European Union member states) and Directives (requirements which must be re-enacted in member states’ domestic legislation) which cover:

The general requirements regarding food law and food safety, effective from January 2005 (Regulation 178/2002 [1])
The general hygiene requirements concerning food, effective from January 2006 (Regulation 852/2004 [2])
The specific hygiene requirements concerning food of animal origin, effective from January 2006 (Regulation 853/2004 [3])
The organisation of official controls on products of animal origin intended for human consumption, effective from January 2006 (Regulation 854/2004 [4])
The rules regarding animal health for the organisation of the production, processing and distribution of products of animal origin applicable form January 2005 (Directive 2002/99 [5])

 

General requirements regarding food safety
Regulation 178/2002 established the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA, http://www.efsa.eu.int/) in 2002. From 2005, this Regulation also places a clear responsibility on food and feed businesses to:

  • ensure that food is safe
  • establish systems to ensure that they can trace food throughout the food chain
  • withdraw or recall food from the market where it does not comply with food safety requirements
  • notify authorities of any action they have taken to secure withdrawal or recall of food or feed.

This Regulation also covers the safety of animal feedstuffs to ensure that this does not indirectly cause illness or harm when humans consume animal products.

General requirements concerning food hygiene
Current European food hygiene legislation is spread across seventeen hygiene directives, resulting in a rather unsystematic approach to food safety. From January 2006, Regulation 852/2004 aims to harmonise food hygiene legislation across Europe.

This Regulation lays down general requirements relating to food hygiene, clarifying the existing responsibilities of food businesses. In a true ‘farm to fork’ approach, primary producers are now subject to the hygiene requirements. The legislation adopts a more flexible and risk-based approach than previous requirements and, with some exceptions, applies to all food businesses.

An important development is that, in line with the principles established in the Codex Alimentarius, food safety management systems based on Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles will be mandatory for all food businesses. The HACCP approach is a recognised tool to help food businesses reach a high standard of food safety. These systems will differ in their level of sophistication depending on the potential hazard of the business. This will not apply to primary producers for the time being.

The Regulation also lays down the minimum requirements for the hygienic structure and layout of food premises, personal hygiene, training of food handlers and encourages the development of guides to good practice.

Specific hygiene rules for food of animal origin
Supplementing the general hygiene requirements, Regulation 853/2004 lays down specific hygiene and animal welfare rules for the production and sale of foods of animal origin, namely, milk and milk products, eggs and egg products, fishery products, live bivalve molluscs and meat and poultry (including game) and their products. Previously, these requirements were contained in separate Directives. Only small effective changes have been made to the previous legislation.

This Regulation also covers the registration and approval of premises producing and distributing these foods, requirements for their packaging and labelling and specifies the microbiological criteria expected for certain foods.

Organisation of official controls and animal health rules concerning products of animal origin
Regulation 854/2004 and Directive 2002/99 cover the regulatory framework to ensure the safe and hygienic production of the food products covered by Regulation 853/2004 and the health requirements of food animals destined for human consumption respectively. Tasks of the official veterinarian are specified along with ante- and postmortem inspection requirements and the animal health conditions demanded. The general aim is to prevent the introduction or spread of animal diseases or zoonoses from products of animal origin to humans or livestock. The requirements have also not fundamentally changed from before.

The requirements described above introduce clearer legal principles to prevent, eliminate or control the contamination of food with pathogens with the aim of reducing or preventing the occurrence of foodborne infections. In addition, they will assist in tracing food during an outbreak of foodborne infection and also clarify situations when food should be withdrawn from sale to protect public health.

To fulfil the aims and objectives of the legislation, a combination of consistent application by the food industry and legal enforcement in all member states is needed.

* Applies from January 2005.

References:
  1. Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 January 2002 laying down the general principles and requirements of food law, establishing the European Food Safety Authority and laying down procedures in matters of food safety. Official Journal of the European Communities 2002; L 31/1: 01.02.2002. (http://europa.eu.int/eur-lex/pri/en/oj/dat/2002/l_031/l_03120020201en00010024.pdf)
  2. Regulation (EC) No 852/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 on the hygiene of foodstuffs. Official Journal of the European Union 2004; L226/3: 25.6.2004. (http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/hiojregulation.pdf)
  3. Regulation (EC) No 853/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 laying down specific hygiene rules for food of animal origin. Official Journal of the European Union 2004; L226/22: 25.6.2004. (http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/h2ojregulation.pdf)
  4. Regulation (EC) No 854/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 laying down specific rules for the organisation of official controls on products of animal origin intended for human consumption. Official Journal of the European Union 2004; L226/83: 25.6.2004. (http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/h3ojregulation.pdf)
  5. Council Directive 2002/99/EC of 16 December 2002 laying down the animal health rules governing the production, processing, distribution and introduction of products of animal origin for human consumption. Official Journal of the European Communities 2003; L 18/11 :23.1.2003. (http://europa.eu.int/eur-lex/pri/en/oj/dat/2003/l_018/l_01820030123en00110020.pdf)

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