Food Law News - EU - 2013

Commission Memo (MEMO/13/524), 10 June 2013

RASFF - 2012 Report on Europe’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed: Questions & Answers

What is RASFF?

Launched in 1979, the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) is primarily a tool to exchange information between national competent authorities on consignments of food and feed in cases where a risk to human health has been identified and measures have been taken. Examples of such measures are: withholding; recalling; seizure or rejection of the products concerned. This quick exchange of information allows all EU Member States to immediately check whether they are also affected by the problem. Whenever a product is already on the market and should not be consumed, the Member States' authorities are then able to take all urgent measures, including giving direct information to the public, if necessary.

Why do we need RASFF?

The swift exchange of information among the RASFF members on food and feed related risks ensures coherent and simultaneous actions by all RASFF members.

The publication of notifications through the RASFF portal database makes consumers aware that we are active in this domain. Consumers can get access to an online database allowing them to see information relating to RASFF notifications the latest 24 hours after their transmission in the RASFF network. Thanks to the work carried out by the RASFF, and depending on different technical and scientific criteria such as nature, seriousness and extent of the risk, public health authorities can take the appropriate steps to inform the general public of the nature of the risk, type of food or feed involved and the measures taken to prevent, reduce or eliminate that risk.

How does it work in practice?

It is important that the problem is notified. Member States use a template to provide all relevant and useful information such as identification of the product, hazards found, measures taken and traceability information of the product. Once the information received through the system, other Member States will check if they are concerned. If the product is on their market they will be able to trace it using the information they find in the notification. They will report back to the RASFF on what they have found and what measures they have taken. In case of products produced in EU, the Member State of origin will also report to RASFF the outcome of its investigations into the origin and distribution of the product and the cause of the problem identified. This allows other Member States to take rapid action if required.

What are the criteria for notification to the RASFF?

The criteria for notification to the RASFF are provided in Article 50 of Regulation (EC) N° 178/20021.

Whenever a member of the network has any information relating to the existence of a serious direct or indirect risk to human health deriving from food or feed, this information is immediately notified to the Commission under the RASFF. The Commission immediately transmits this information to the members of the network.

Article 50(3) of the Regulation gives further criteria for when a RASFF notification is required:

“Without prejudice to other Community legislation, the Member States shall immediately notify the Commission under the rapid alert system of:

Who are the members of the RASFF system?

The RASFF network comprises of: EU Member States; EEA countries (Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland); EFTA Secretariat coordinating the input from the EEA countries; European Food Safety Authority (EFSA); and the Commission as the manager of the system. Since 1 January 2009, Switzerland became a partial member of the system after they concluded an agreement with the EU eliminating border controls between the EU and Switzerland for products of animal origin. From 1 July 2013, Croatia will become a new member of the RASFF.

What are the main findings of the RASFF annual report 2012?

In 2012 the number of RASFF notifications reached a total of 8797, representing a 3.9% decrease compared to 2011. Of those, 3516 were original notifications (40 %) and 5281 were follow-up notifications (60%). These figures represent a 7.8% decrease in original notifications and a 1.2% decrease in follow-up notifications. A total of 526 alert notifications reporting on serious risks found in products on the market, which marked decrease of 14% compared to 2011.

Of the 3516 original notifications transmitted in RASFF in 2012, 332 concerned feed (9.4%) and regarding food contact materials, 299 notifications were counted (8.5%). These figures are in line with what was reported in 2011. 2885 original notifications were related to food.

What is covered by the top notifications?

Does the decrease in overall notifications signify that our food is safer?

There are many factors that influence notifications to RASFF. Nonetheless, no change in these factors can be identified that may have caused the decrease although no figures are available to RASFF on the level of food safety checks in the member countries in 2012 compared to the previous years. It is important to note that there was no decrease for so-called follow-up notifications on problems reported for products placed on the market in the EU. This means that RASFF is used ever more intensively to follow up on these problems. As a consequence, these problems will be solved more rapidly and measures will be put in place to prevent them from happening again.

What was the role of RASFF in the recent horse meat scandal?

RASFF is primarily a platform to exchange information on food safety issues and not on fraud. However, the Commission decided to use the RASFF system to notify this case because the system is able to collect and report on complex traceability which was a key issue in this incident.

It is important to highlight that thanks to the RASFF, the Irish food safety authority, which originally discovered that some processed foods labelled as 100% beef contained horsemeat, was able to swiftly alert its European partners. As a result of a monitoring programme, launched by the Commission, over 70 RASFF notifications were sent which led to over 300 follow-up notifications to trace the products and withdraw them from the market.

The horsemeat scandal has raised a legitimate need to exchange information on cases of food fraud which is an emerging phenomenon. To address this issue the Commission has prepared a 5 point Action Plan to tackle fraudulent practices. The plan aims to close the gaps identified in the wake of the horsemeat scandal including setting up a procedure for the rapid exchange of information and alerts in cases which may constitute food fraud.

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