Introduction on the RASFF system of the EU

The Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) has its legal basis in the Regulation (EC) N° 178/2002, which establishes this system as a network involving the member states of the EU, the European Commission as member and manager and the EFSA (European Food Safety Agency). Also Switzerland and the EEA countries: Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland, are longstanding members of the RASFF.

 

The RASFF was put into place to provide food and feed control authorities with an effective tool to exchange information about measures taken responding to serious risks detected in relation to food and feed. The system consists of clearly identified contact points in the EC, EEA, EFSA and at national level in the member states.
The member states shall immediately notify the Commission under the rapid alert system of:

  •  Any measure they adopt in restricting the placing on the market, forcing the withdrawal from the market or recall from food and feed in order to protect human health and requiring rapid action;
  • Any recommendation or agreement with the professional operators  in preventing, limiting or imposing specific conditions on market access or using  food and feed on account of a serious risk to human health
  • Any rejection related to a direct or indirect risk to human health of a batch, container or cargo of food and feed by a competent authority at a border post within the European Union.

 

Article 51 of Regulation 178/2002 mandates the Commission to lay down implementing measures for the RASFF. Quoting from the article:

These measures shall specify, in particular, the specific conditions and procedures applicable to the transmission of notifications and supplementary information.

Regulation (EC) No 16/20114 lays down these implementing rules for the RASFF. It entered into force on 31 January 2011. The Regulation lays down requirements for members of the network and the procedure for transmission of the different types of notifications. A difference is made between notifications requiring rapid action (alert notifications) and other notifications (information notifications and border rejection notifications). Therefore definitions of these different types of notifications are added. In addition the role of the Commission as manager of the network is detailed.

According to the seriousness of the risks identified and the distribution of the product on the market, the RASFF notification is classified after verification by the Commission contact point as alert, information or border rejection notification before the Commission contact point transmits it to all network members.

  1. Alert notification: An ‘alert notification’ or ‘alert’ is sent when a food, feed or food contact material presenting a serious risk is on the market and when rapid action is or might be required in another country than the notifying country. Alerts are triggered by the member of the network that detects the problem and has initiated the relevant measures, such as withdrawal or recall. The notification aims at giving all the members of the network the information to verify whether the concerned product is on their market, so that they can take the necessary measures.

  2. Information notifications: An ‘information notification’ concerns a food, feed or food contact material for which a risk has been identified that does not require rapid action either because the risk is not considered serious or the product is not on the market at the time of notification.

    Commission Regulation (EU) No 16/2011 has added two new sub-types of information notification to the family of notifications:

    1. ‘Information notifications for follow-up’ are related to a product that is or may be placed on the market in another member country

    2. ‘Information notifications for attention’ are related to a product that:

    (i) is present only in the notifying member country; or
    (ii) has not been placed on the market; or
    (iii) is no longer on the market.

  3. Border rejection notifications: a ‘border rejection notification’ concerns a consignment of food, feed or food contact material that was refused entry into the European Union for reason of a risk to human health and also to animal health or to the environment if it concerns feed.

  4. Original notifications and follow-up notifications: A RASFF notification referring to one or more consignments of a food, feed or food contact material that were not previously notified to the RASFF is an ‘original’ notification, classified as alert, information or border rejection notification. In reaction to such notification, members of the network can transmit ‘follow-up’ notifications which refer to the same consignments and which add information to the original notification such as information on hazards, product traceability or measures taken. A notifying member can identify in its notification other members that should provide follow-up. These members are then flagged for follow-up in the system.

  5. Rejected and withdrawn notifications: An original notification sent by a member of the RASFF can be rejected from transmission through the RASFF system, as proposed by the Commission after verification and in agreement with the notifying country, if the criteria for notification are not met or if the information transmitted is insufficient.

A ‘RASFF news’ concerns any type of information related to the safety of food or feed which has not been communicated as an alert, information or border rejection notification, but which is judged interesting for the food and feed control authorities in member countries. RASFF news are often based on information picked up in the media or forwarded by colleagues in food or feed authorities in third countries, EC delegations or international organisations, after having been verified with any member countries concerned.

Consumer information

Without prejudice that RASFF is a communication network between its members rather than a public information service, it does play a role in informing the European citizens on issues concerning our food safety and public health protection.

More recent information about the RASFF notifications can be consulted through the RASFF Portal database which offers a wide scale of search parameters to pinpoint those notifications that a visitor could have a particular interest in or alternatively, the visitor can simply consult the notifications list to find the most recently transmitted RASFF notifications.

The RASFF Portal database does not yet allow worried consumers to identify in full those notifications concerning products that they should not consume. They should rely on the national authorities’ information for that. The public should also be aware that the RASFF notifications are issued for specific batches of product in which a risk was identified. Often such risk may be present in one batch, but not in the other and may have entered the product despite the good care taken by the business operator.

In order not to provoke any disproportionate actions or reactions to the information given, information about brands and operators involved is not published. Consumers are assured that any and all actions necessary to protect their health are being taken by the national competent authorities without any delay.

In the table shown here the RASFF notifications are limited to the pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables exported from ACP countries reported in 2005 up to date. All notifications are based on the RASFF portal:

http://ec.europa.eu/RASFF

or on the UK MRL monitoring reports which are published quarterly:

  http://www.pesticides.gov.uk

 
The type of notification (information, alert or border rejection) is indicated showing the crop and active substance and the importing and notifying country.
The analyzed residue values are listed with the date of analysis. The current EU MRLs are also shown. As the MRLs were under evaluation of the EFSA for the new Regulation (EC) 396/2005 in 2005 and 2006 and some are recently being re-evaluated by EFSA, the actual MRLs cannot be compared with the analytical residue data for a compliance check. Many of the MRLs for the crop/active substance combinations have changed in the meantime – and some keep on changing.
The data table on RASFF notifications for fresh fruits and vegetables imported by ACP countries to the European market will be updated on a regular basis and can be easily looked up when visiting the PIP/COLEACP home page.

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