Food Safety: Ukvsgreece

Food Safety: Ukvsgreece

Food safety: UKvsGreece

GREEK companies that break Greece's food safety laws need to be reined in with more than spot fines. We've already had a yoghurt safety scandal and the restaurant where Russian President Vladimir Putin ate last month was found in possession of expired meat.

It would do us well to follow the lead of how some of our European counterparts are combating food safety issues. The case regarding Cadbury's salmonella scare in 2006 is a prime example.

The Cadbury salmonella scare originated at its Marlbrook, Herefordshire, factory and was blamed on a leaking pipe carrying waste water from cleaning machinery. Although the problem was discovered in January 2006 and confirmed in February 2006, Cadbury allegedly failed to inform the authorities until June 2006.

Government health officials said up to 37 of 56 cases of Salmonella Montevideo reported between March and July last year were identical to bacteria found in the company's confectionery. The Health Protection Agency concluded that Cadbury was the likely cause of the salmonella outbreak, which may have infected 180 people.

Last June 23, the Foods Standard Agency (FSA) stated that Cadbury posed unacceptable risk to the public and that "all requests for information [to Cadbury] had to be reinforced". In July, FSA reported that "Cadbury's system for checking product safety is unreliable, out of date and [that it] underestimated the likelihood of salmonella contamination". Last August, FSA announced it would give money to a council investigating salmonella at the Herefordshire factory. The investigation was completed this month and the Birmingham-based firm was accused of selling "unsafe" products.

Cadbury will appear before Birmingham magistrates on June 15 over its alleged failure
to "immediately inform" the authorities about the contamination, as well as failing to "identify hazards" of contaminated food and pinpointing "corrective actions" - all fouls that many Greek food companies have committed in the past months. The most notable examples are:

1. Dairy company FAGE, which failed to inform the public and authorities immediately when broken glass was found in Junior yoghurts (November 2006).

2. Dionysos restaurant in Filopappou, where the Russian and Greek PM had dinner last month. Greece's Food Safety Agency (EFET) audited this restaurant and found food unfit for consumption on 14 March 2007. The food was disposed of, but information regarding the restaurant's food storage standards was not released. Publicly, no hazards were identified and no corrective actions were named.

In both cases, either a proper investigation is still pending or the results and the legal actions against the food companies have never been made public.

It can be concluded that Greek food authorities do not perform full food safety audits as they should and, when they do, the investigation is not always thorough.

The EU law 852/2004 obliges every company that produces or retails food to implement a food safety management system called Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP). However, HACCP is not fully implemented in many Greek companies, which endangers public health and causes bad publicity abroad for Greece and for all Greek companies that do implement this system and work towards safe food standards.

Yannis Zabetakis

Lecturer in food chemistry at the University of Athens