A system that ensures healthy food and safe food, can only function if responsibilities and tasks are clearly defined. This applies to farmers in the grain fields as well as for scientists in the food laboratory. Therefore, the legal framework for the production and trade of food in the European Union (EU) is largely harmonized. The approach applies to the entire food chain "from field to fork" and relies on seven principles.
There are seven principles of the food safety:
- Entrepreneurial responsibility
- Official food control
- Precautionary principles
- Risk assessment by independent scientific
- Separation of risk assessment and risk management
- Transparent risk communication
Entrepreneurial responsibility: Whether it's a farmer, baker, butcher or supermarket: anyone who produces or distributes food or feed animal is responsible for ensuring that his products are flawless. This is called "duty of care". All those involved in the food production chain must ensure the safety of a food product within their area of responsibility. They have to do this by suitable measures, such as self-control, to ensure the highest quality standards. If a manufacturer, retailer or restaurateur fails to comply with the duty of care, this can have serious consequences. The food business operator is liable under civil law for damages caused by defective products.
Traceability: Since 2005, all food business operators throughout the EU not only have to document where they have delivered which food. They must also be able to prove where their food and raw materials come from. In the event of contamination, the food from the same batch have to be recalled from retail. For this purpose, there is a so-called lot number or date on each food package, among other things. A batch comprises the quantity of food that was produced and packaged under practically the same conditions during a specific period. Food of animal origin such as milk and meat products also bear the oval identity mark.
Official food control: The food inspectorates check the general requirements of food and the authorities of the federal states or regions monitor compliance with the requirements of food law. This includes in particular, checking the company’s' own operational controls ("the control of the control"). Sensitive foods are monitored more frequently and there are special monitoring plans for various product.
Precautionary principles: Risks cannot always be conclusively clarified scientifically, for example if previously unknown pollutants are discovered. In such cases, the "precautionary principle" applies. It stipulates that the responsible authorities can take precautionary measures to keep risks as low as possible. The measures must be appropriate and reviewed as soon as new scientific data are available.
Risk assessment by independent scientific: How do you find out whether a risk to health is large or small? At the state level, these tasks are usually performed by a state investigation office. It investigates and evaluates risks to humans and animals in the area of food and feed safety without political, social and economic influences. Usually these institutions also conducts its own researches if the data available on an issue are insufficient to assess the risk. Moreover, it informs the public about its findings ("risk communication").
Separation of risk assessment and risk management: There is a clear separation between scientific risk assessment and risk management by politicians and authorities. This means that the scientists first draw up their opinion, free of any influence from politics or industry, and only afterwards risk managers are in charge. Risk management includes questions such as: What measures are appropriate? Which population groups need special protection? What risks are acceptable and at what cost? The central authority for risk management is usually a Federal Ministry, in close coordination with a Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety. It bases its technical decisions and measures on the independent scientific risk assessment of the national law as well as European law.
Transparent risk communication: Risk communication always takes place on several levels. Scientists exchange information about the extent of an emerging risk. Politics, industry and science discuss the consequences of the scientific risk assessment. Politicians decide on appropriate measures to minimize the risk. The public is informed through press activities of the responsible state or federal authorities. If, despite all precautions of the food businesses, food is placed on the market that poses a risk to human health, consumers are informed. This is initially done as part of the food recall by the responsible food manufacturer.
If the finished food meets all the quality criteria after production, it must be transported safely from the production site via the retailer to the consumer. For this purpose, it must be packaged in a suitable manner. Food packaging can consist of different packaging materials such as plastic, glass, paper, aluminium or tinplate. They protect food from environmental influences (e.g. light and moisture), from contamination and damage. Packaging is also subject to a large number of special legal requirements. The flow of information through the supply chain is therefore particularly important in order to provide suitable, legally compliant packaging for each application. Furthermore, the packaging is a carrier of important information, such as the mandatory labelling elements (list of ingredients, quantity information, best-before date, etc.). The variety of packaging sizes also allows consumers to select different quantities of a product as required. So, when it comes to food safety, packaging safety measurement have to be incorporated too. Trends like plastic-free or packaging free makes the food industry even more complex.
THE EUROPEAN FOOD SAFETY AUTHORITY
The scientifically independent risk assessment for food and feed at EU level is the task of the European Food Safety Authority (European Food Safety Authority - EFSA, Parma/Italy). It operates without influence from politics or industry. EFSA's scientific opinions and recommendations serve the European Commission, the European Parliament and the EU Member States as a basis for efficient risk management. EFSA works closely with the relevant institutes in the EU Member States. For this purpose, there are the so-called EFSA Contact Points in the Member States, which serve as central points of contact.