At EU level, food safety legislation is one of the pillars of health protection and it is very strongly harmonised. Every citizen has the right to know how the food they eat is produced, processed, packaged, labelled, and sold. The main objective of the EU Food Safety Policy is to ensure a high level of human health protection for the food industry – Europe’s largest production and employment sector. The guiding principle is to apply an integrated approach from farm to table covering all sectors of the food chain. The EU Food Safety Policy aims to protect consumers and to ensure that the single market operates smoothly. Since 2003, this policy focuses on the concept of traceability of both inputs (e.g., animal feed) and outputs (e.g., primary production, processing, storage, transport, and retail). Ensuring food safety requires a holistic approach to the entire food chain, from the receipt of high-quality agricultural crops and feed to appropriate production. Defining and complying with control standards for food and food product hygiene, animal health and welfare, plant health and the prevention of risks from undesirable substances.
The EU has developed and implemented a food safety system: a set of rules to ensure the highest possible standards to protect the consumers’ health and economic interests, as well as to set control standards for the hygiene of food and food products, the animals’ health and welfare, the plants’ health, and the prevention of contamination risks by external substances, such as pesticides. Strict controls are in place at every stage, and food imports (e.g., meat) from outside the EU must meet the same standards and undergo the same controls as food produced within the EU. The EU Food Safety Authority (EFSA) provides the scientific basis for risk management.
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The implementation of European standards in the EU is ensured by food inspection monitoring authorities, supervising the health conditions of food and feeds, whilst the Veterinary Inspectorate is responsible for the food production supervision. These authorities focus on the conditions of production, transport, storage, and sale of food, as well as over the conditions of collective feeding; supervision of the health quality of food and the health conditions of production and trade materials and products intended to come into contact with food.
Microbiological criteria provide guidelines for the acceptability of foodstuffs and their manufacturing processes. Preventive measures such as the application of Good Hygiene and Manufacturing Practices (GHP, GMP) and the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles contribute to achieving food safety. Microbiological testing alone cannot guarantee the safety of the foodstuff tested, but these criteria provide targets and benchmarks to assist food businesses and competent authorities in their efforts to manage and monitor the safety of foodstuffs, respectively.
Many chemical substances are present as contaminants in the environment (EFSA, n.d.). Community food legislation aims to establish a proper balance between the risks and benefits of substances used intentionally and the contaminants’ reduction. The legislation on contaminants is based on scientific advice and on the principle that contaminants’ levels should be kept as low as reasonably achievable by good working practices. To protect public health, maximum levels have been set for certain contaminants (e.g., mycotoxins, dioxins, heavy metals, nitrates, chloropropanols). Legislation on food additives is based on the principle that only additives explicitly authorised can be used, often in limited quantities in specific foods (Postupolski, 2020).
Legislation on residues of veterinary medicinal products used in food-producing animals and residues of plant protection products (pesticides) provides for scientific evaluation before the relevant products are authorised. The legislation on food contact materials stipulates that these materials must not transfer their constituents to food in quantities that could endanger human health or change the composition, taste, or consistency of food (EU, n.d.).
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