Food safety in the EU

Food safety is a key element of the EU policy. Health protection is implemented throughout the entire agri-food chain, which encompasses all stages of food production, from farming to consumption. These activities are aimed at preventing food contamination, promoting food hygiene and disseminating information on food, plant health, as well as animal health and welfare.

The European Union’s food safety policy has three main objectives:

  • ensuring the safety and adequate nutritional value of food and animal feed;
  • ensuring a high level of protection of animal health and welfare, as well as plant protection;
  • ensuring accurate and clear information on the origin, composition, labelling and use of food.

Thanks to EU legislation, consumers are guaranteed some of the strictest and most stringent food safety standards in the world. Throughout the entire agri-food chain, mandatory audits are carried out in order to ensure plant and animal health, as well as safety, high quality, proper labelling and compliance of food and animal feed with stringent EU standards.

The European Union implemented strict labelling rules to provide consumers with comprehensive and detailed information on the composition of their food, which enables them to make informed purchasing decisions. Products must be clearly labelled with important information regarding allergens and nutritional values, including energy, fat content, saturated fat content, carbohydrates, sugar, protein and salt. Food labels also contain information about the producer, seller, importer, storage conditions and preparation of certain types of food.

Rules of production and quality management systems

The key elements ensuring full transparency of the production chain in the European Union is a mandatory identification system and constant audits carried out by controlling authorities, which ensure proper supervision over food production.

The standardisation of production processes applies to all food production facilities, as well as to the high level of animal welfare and proper documentation. All food production plants in the European Union must implement a number of systems, among which the best-known ones are:

  • HACCP – Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points.
  • GHP – Good Hygienic Practice.
  • GMP – Good Manufacturing Practice.
  • GAP – Good Agricultural Practices.

HACCP – Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points.

HACCP – Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points is a good safety system based primarily on risk prevention, which enables identifying critical points where hazards may occur and taking appropriate action if a hazard occurs.

HACCP is a procedure intended to ensure food safety by identifying and estimating the scale of hazards from the standpoint of health requirements and the risk of hazards occurring at every stage of food production and marketing.

Implementing the HACCP system is beneficial for both the consumer, as well as producer. The obligation to implement the HACCP system results in assurance that the food eaten by consumers is safe. By running a properly functioning system, the producer builds consumer confidence and improves their image.

HACCP is a systematic approach to the identification, assessment and control of food safety risks based on the following seven principles:

  • Principle 1: Carrying out a hazard analysis.
  • Principle 2: Identifying Critical Control Points (CCPs).
  • Principle 3: Establishing critical limits.
  • Principle 4: Establishing monitoring procedures.
  • Principle 5: Establishing corrective actions.
  • Principle 6: Establish verification procedures.
  • Principle 7: Establishing record-keeping and documentation procedures.

GHP – Good Hygienic Practice.

GHP – Good Hygienic Practice – is a system, the main aim of which is to ensure proper hygiene in the working environment in food industry companies.

The Good Hygienic Practice system covers:

  • the technical condition of the production plant facilities and the company’s headquarters, as well as the cleanliness of the environment;
  • the functionality of the use of the plant facilities and their equipment, including production halls, warehouses and social rooms, with particular attention paid to the division of the plant into zones depending on the occurrence of hazards concerning end-product safety;
  • the technical and sanitary condition of machines, appliances and equipment with regard to ensuring food safety;
  • proper functioning of control and measurement devices;
  • the proper and efficient processes, with particular attention paid to the washing processes including the use of appropriate washing and disinfecting agents;
  • the quality of water used in the plant for technological purposes;
  • proper sewage disposal process, as well as collection and disposal of solid waste, including hazardous waste and post-consumer waste in the case of mass caterers;
  • current medical certificates for sanitary and epidemiological purposes specified in the regulations on infectious diseases and infections affecting persons involved in the production process or in food trade;
  • employee qualifications to comply with hygiene rules appropriate to their work;
  • an effective pest control process for the plant.

GMP – Good Manufacturing Practice.

GMP – Good Manufacturing Practice constitute an important part of the overall HACCP food safety system in the food industry. Good Manufacturing Practice can be roughly defined as the operational requirements necessary for the food producer to ensure safe food production. All relevant food legislation and customer certification processes place strong emphasis on compliance with Good Manufacturing Practice.

Good Manufacturing Practice is important for the production of safe food. Food producers have a legal and moral duty to produce and prepare food that does not harm the consumer in any way. Such companies can incur high costs if they do not implement adequate good manufacturing practices. All staff should be trained in GMP procedures relevant for food producers.

Good manufacturing practice covers a number of basic operating conditions and procedures to be followed by the food producer. These may include:

  • Proper construction and layout of food rooms.
  • Condition of the external environment of food rooms.
  • Proper maintenance of equipment and tools used in the food industry.
  • Use of appropriate chemicals in and around food rooms, including cleaning agents, pest control chemicals and machine lubricants.
  • Identification and storage of waste by food producers.
  • Cleanliness of food rooms, equipment, dishes, floors, walls and ceilings.
  • Effective pest control programme in and around food rooms.
  • Preventing foreign objects from ending up in the finished product. Sources of foreign objects can include wood, glass, metal, plastic, pests, paper, string, and tape.

GAP – Good Agricultural Practices.

GAP – Good Agricultural Practices are guidelines regarding food production for farmers, aimed at reducing the risk of microbial contamination associated with food-borne diseases on their farms.

Good agricultural practices are applied as a set of rules applicable to production in farms and post-production processes, which results in safe food and other agricultural products, while taking into account economic, social and environmental sustainability.

GAP obliges farmers to respect grace periods after using fertilisers, plant protection products or medicines in order to protect food.

These principles also include strict rules on feeding farm animals, fertilisers and ensuring consumer safety through primary production.

Food audits in the EU

In accordance with European Union legislation, thorough checks and audits are carried out to ensure that all products in the food chain meet the relevant standards. These audits include tests aimed at detecting harmful residues of veterinary medicines, pesticides and contaminants. The audits are carried out by EU inspectors who visit farms and food producers. National authorities carry out checks at the European Union borders to ensure that food and animals coming from outside the EU comply with EU standards.

Businesses have the main responsibility for ensuring that the food they market is safe. Regular and thorough official audits carried out by individual Member States’ authorities ensure that stringent food and feed standards are maintained.

Inspectors from the Food and Veterinary Office of the European Commission audit national authorities and ensure that EU legislation is applied throughout the European Union. They are also active in countries preparing for accession to the EU and in countries exporting animals, plants, food and feed to the EU.

The quality systems and production standards in place in the European Union, supported by regular audits carried out by controlling authorities, ensure full traceability in the agri-food chain in line with the “field to table” principle.

In accordance with European production standards, the consumer will always get a high-quality product. Thanks to uniform rules and transparency of processes throughout the production chain, the consumer also gains a guarantee of production safety and has full information about the sources of its origin.