EU and Swedish regulations regarding food processing are rigorous and sometimes difficult for even well-established companies to follow. Perhaps as a result thereof, there have been several food scandals in recent times both in Sweden and in other parts of the EU that have damaged public faith in the food processing industry. To address such problems, the Swedish National Food Agency (NFA) has prepared a report detailing measures to assist businesses in their efforts to achieve compliancy with applicable regulations. The following are some of the new measures recommended by the NFA to the Swedish government.
Easier Access to Information
One of the NFA’s goals is to make it easier for businesses to get the information they need to produce safe food in accordance with applicable regulations. To help achieve this, the NFA launched the Kontrollwiki service on its website in September 2016. Kontrollwiki is an information tool intended for use by both businesses and NFA inspectors. Also availa-ble as an app, Kontrollwiki assembles all food-related information, legislation, previous guidelines and manuals in one convenient location and is regularly updated to ensure that both businesses and inspectors can access the same, current versions of these documents.
To provide further guidance concerning food supervision, the NFA has also introduced a new section on its website where it publishes and archives questions asked by users (typically food businesses) and answered by NFA experts for all businesses to review and learn from.
Another tool provided to help keep businesses informed is an e-education programme offered on the NFA’s website. This programme is based on interactive self-tuition and is available to both businesses and NFA inspectors. The NFA intends that such interactive programmes will keep businesses well informed about relevant regulations.
New Regulation regarding Authorities’ Supervision of Food Processing Companies
In the past, Swedish authorities’ supervision of food processing companies has not com-plied fully with EU legislation. However, new rules, applicable from 1 January 2017, are now in place. These rules include more precise guidelines concerning what is expected of those responsible for this supervision (i.e., municipalities, county administrative boards and the NFA’s own food controllers). For example, the new rules clarify what is expected in connection with the planning and follow-up of food supervision measures. Further, the new rules require that authorities have in place 1) a supervision plan for the years to come, 2) a regular follow-up and evaluation of the supervision conducted and 3) an emergency plan for food-sector crises.
New National Warning System
Given that Swedish food businesses are supervised at the local level, whereas foodstuffs are usually sold at the national level, a system is needed that can rapidly alert all municipalities if food is found to be unsafe during local-level inspections. To date, no technical solution has existed to allow such reports to be communicated rapidly. The EU Commis-sion has a system in place called the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) that is used to transmit rapid food alerts between countries. The NFA has now decided that RASFF is to be used nationally in Sweden, also. In implementing this system among the supervisory authorities, the NFA has proposed that each authority 1) be connected to the national warning system, 2) use the system to notify other authorities when food is found to be unsafe, 3) attend to notifications received via the system and report back on the ac-tions taken. It is intended that these regulations will apply from 1 January 2018.
Overhaul of Risk Classifications and Control Fees
The NFA has also reviewed its current risk classification system and control fees. Risk classifications are used to determine how extensive the supervision of a facility will be on an annual basis. The NFA has now undertaken to review and update the risk classification model it uses.
In addition, businesses are required to pay annual control fees to the NFA for supervision conducted on their premises. Trade associations have criticized the current fee levels. As a result, the NFA is now reviewing these fees with the goal of making the fee system easier for businesses to understand and the fees for different operations calculable in advance.
Based on the report submitted to the government, it is evident that the NFA has reviewed some of its current workflows and routines. The changes detailed above are only a selection from the proposals the NFA presented in relation to improving its work and responsibilities. It is clear that the NFA’s main strategy for educating and keeping businesses informed is to use the available digital platforms and technology. Nevertheless, the onus remains on businesses to seek or request information and guidance. It is with great interest that we will continue following these proposals and their effect on consumers’ faith in the food industry, the industry’s assessment of their practical impact and the challenges they may create. Naturally, we are also there to assist, as necessary.