Gourmet police

The EU’s food safety alert system aims to pick up dangerous food products before they land on your plate.

While the presence of a worm in fruit is natural and might even prove that the apple was grown organically, other types of food contamination can be dangerous. Think dioxins, or melamine in baby foods from China.

To keep dangerous food and animal feed off the shelves, the EU has a rapid alert system for food and feed (RASFF), now 30 years old, enabling EU countries to exchange information on potentially dangerous products quickly and react immediately.

If problems are identified at an early stage and the information is passed on, products can be taken off the market, quickly, in the entire EU, or – even better – picked up before they go on sale.

National authorities are also notified of any imported products refused entry to the EU on safety grounds.

Whereas the total number of warnings in 2008 was about the same as in 2007, at 7000, only 528 actual product-withdrawal calls had to be issued – half the figure for 2007 – suggesting that dangerous items are being spotted earlier, before they are put on sale.

Some 62 per cent of alerts were on products originating from within the EU. Pathogenic micro-organisms and mycotoxins was the most frequent cause for concern.