Official controls of milk and meat production in Norway must be improved so they are in line with the law, according to an audit report.

The assessment found the overall system was good but Norwegian authorities needed to ensure controls target businesses most likely to present a risk to food safety.

The EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) is responsible for monitoring how Iceland and Norway implement EEA rules on food and feed safety and animal health and welfare. Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein form the European Economic Area (EEA). The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) consists of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.

An audit in late November through early December 2019 evaluated the official control system implemented by Mattilsynet (Norwegian Food Safety Authority) for the hygienic production of meat, milk and products made from them. Two dairy farms, milk processing sites and meat product factories, three slaughterhouses and one laboratory were visited as part of the review.

Lack of risk-based controls
For approved meat and milk plants, the same minimum frequency of control is set based on general categories of production rather than considering all relevant risk factors. For primary production, a list of potential risks has been established centrally but no weighting is given to them regarding significance. Local departments use these to determine the frequency and scope of official controls.

This approach may result in official controls not being targeted at businesses most likely to present a risk to food safety in a uniform way throughout the country, according to the audit report.

A new system is under development to classify the risk firms present to public health. It is expected to be finished during 2020 with full implementation in 2021. In the meantime, objectives of the hygiene legislation are not being fully met in all establishments as not all deficiencies are detected.

Official controls related to post-mortem inspection in cattle, where several of the EEA inspection tasks are not carried out, weaken the system. Auditors found these issues increase the possibility of unsafe food entering the supply chain and animal diseases not being detected.

Issues found by audit team but not official controls
In the slaughterhouses and cutting factories visited, issues with the design and maintenance of premises were identified which had not been detected by official controls. These included flaking paint on ceilings directly above exposed meat, unclear labelling or identification of animal byproducts (ABP) containers, damaged floors in production areas and in one slaughterhouse, carcasses touching prior to official inspection.

A number of operational hygiene issues were found by the audit team which had not been noted by officials. These included knives not placed in sterilizers during breaks, no cleaning of meat conveyor belts during the working day, and poor cleaning above food production areas.

Authorities have approved alternative sampling procedures and testing against different microorganisms in slaughterhouses. However, this approval was granted in 2007 for now repealed legislation and has not been re-assessed against current microbiological requirements to ensure it still applies.

In most sites visited using alternative analytical methods, Mattilsynet staff do not have confirmation that alternative methods have been validated against the specific reference methods.

Tofu warning
Meanwhile, Mattilsynet has revealed suspicions about organized illegal tofu production and sale in the Oslo area.

The tofu is sold in shops, restaurants and to individuals via closed Facebook pages. Such tofu could be potentially hazardous because it is not known where or how it was produced, who made it, where the raw materials come from or their quality, according to the agency.

Mattilsynet suspects organized large-scale production because as soon as they seize products in one place, a new supply appears, sometimes as quick as the day after.

Previous operations on illegal home production of tofu have found it is often done in unhygienic conditions, posing a risk to public health. Pre-packaged products appear to be professionally manufactured which can mislead the consumer on product quality.

Illegally produced tofu usually has no labeling or traceability, while tofu made by approved companies is labeled and can be traced back to the manufacturer.

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