The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) has requested Iceland to ameliorate official controls on ready-to-eat food. The EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) keeps an eye on compliance with European Economic Area (EEA) rules in Iceland, Norway, and Liechtenstein.

The ESA evaluated how Iceland meets EEA hygiene requirements for ready-to-eat (RTE) food such as smoked salmon, cheeses and salami during an inspection in March.

Inspectors discovered that Iceland has an imperiled system to deliver official controls in plants producing RTE foods, which is generally beneficial. However, there is a shortage of resources to carry out inspections and long interims are given to businesses to adopt restorative measures. They said this may enhance the likelihood of hazardous food being placed on the market as not all non-compliances are discovered and dealt with in a well-timed manner.

As per the inspection report, “Iceland needs to make sure that sufficient time and resources are available for food safety inspections. Additionally, food businesses should be given stricter deadlines, to rectify any problem identified during audit.”

Since the last three years there has been decrease in the number of inspection hours delivered by the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), in the poultry and dairy products facility, as compared to planned hours. However, in the fishery products segment, there has been a rise in the inspection hours delivered.

Only one site visit at a fishery products establishment took place owing to this COVID-19 pandemic. Meetings were conducted with two meat products firms and one dairy, salad and sandwich producer, catering company and a National Reference Laboratory (NRL).

Audit team visiting the fishery products plant saw instances of non-compliance such as storage of packaging bearing identification marks from another establishment (detected about 5 weeks earlier but remained unaddressed), blending of animal by-products (ABPs) and food, amalgamation of food with product over a year beyond its expiry date and a lack of traceability on few products.

MAST declared- “In this case, the severity was evaluated in the manner that there was no immediate food security risk for consumers. Generally, if a non-compliance has not been rectified at the time of the next audit visit, the food business operator in question will get a serious non-compliance and a drop in performance category,” It further informed that the firm is no longer functional.

It also informed- “A non-compliance about traceability was made in an inspection on June 21, 2019, where products were stored unmarked. On a visit from Oct. 2, 2019 this is said to be corrected. Eventually, in the next three inspections on our behalf no remarks are made on traceability. So no remarks were made for some time and then unfortunately this goes wrong again.”

The latest inspection report for one establishment, functioning since 2018, recorded no written procedures for traceability or for product recall and that a HACCP system was not yet applied. These were not considered as serious deviations and the authority planned to check the non-compliances at the next audit.

MAST informed that this has been corrected using the Isleyfur computerized inspection system.

One firm audited by the inspection team submitted 2 rather than 5 units to make up a sample for Listeria monocytogenes detection. This is not in compliance with EU regulation but had not been found during official commands and is prevailing for the last two years.

MAST stated- “Suitable frequency of sampling and correct counts of units forming a sample for analysis of Listeria, will be clearly stated in the specifications. The main rule will continue to be that 5 units are required to make up a sample for analysis of Listeria monocytogenes.”

MAST stated that if less than 5 units are submitted for sampling, companies will have to exemplify with previous data they have a fruitful HACCP system in line with EU rules. This will be validated by a visit to go through all the issues in the HACCP section of the inspection guidebook.

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