Good results in fish monitoring, but audit shows gaps in control

Monitoring of farmed fish in Norway found low levels of pharmaceuticals and environmental toxins, and the audit found that the fish control system could be improved.

Fish tested for illegal compounds were collected at the farm level by inspectors from the Norwegian Food Safety Authority (Mattilsynet) without prior notice.

In 2021, 2,827 samples of 14,135 farmed fish were tested for residues of illegal substances, steroids and unauthorized veterinary drugs. These include Atlantic salmon, rainbow trout, Atlantic cod, pollock, Arctic char, brown trout, spotted wolffish and Atlantic halibut.

Samples examined for illegal compounds were collected at all stages of economic activity. Those tested for approved veterinary drugs and contaminants came from processing facilities and represent farmed fish ready for human consumption.

The Institute of Marine Research analyzed the fish for illegal drugs, legally used veterinary drugs and environmental toxins.

No samples were found to contain stilbenes, steroids, chloramphenicol, nitrofurans, or metronidazole residues. Also, no remains of malachite green or bright green were detected. Residues of the dye crystal violet were found in two salmon samples, but further investigation suggested that this was caused by contamination during sampling.

The level of dioxin found in fish fillets was lower than last year. No residues of veterinary drugs were found and none of the samples exceeded EU maximum limits for pollutants such as mercury, lead and cadmium.

Results of the EFTA audit
Meanwhile, an audit by the EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) has revealed problems with the frequency of official controls on fishery products and the approval of establishments in Norway. Nine recommendations were made.

An assessment conducted in March this year found that the official control system is risk-based and covers the production of fish products from catch to consumer. It includes eight processing plants, one cold storage facility, four landing sites, one fishing vessel and an official control laboratory.

ESA is responsible for monitoring how Iceland and Norway comply with European Economic Area (EEA) regulations on food safety, feed safety and animal health and welfare.

Norway is one of the largest producers of fishery products in the world. The largest export markets are China and EU countries such as Denmark, Poland, Germany and the Netherlands.

From 2019 to 2021, there were 10 Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) reports on fish products from Norway, including three due to Listeria and Anisakis.

The auditors recommended that fish producers develop national guidelines on good hygiene practices and the application of HACCP principles. Mattilsynet is developing a plan to train food inspectors on auditing HACCP systems.

Problems detected by auditors
A risk-based system is based on microbiological issues and does not contain chemicals. Some controls are affected by a lack of resources. Examples of insufficient communication and cooperation between head and regional offices were observed by the auditors, which may have resulted in the marketing of non-compliant products.

Plant and freezer containers require inspection every fourth year. Shrimp cooking plant pots should be inspected once a year. The authorities could not respect this frequency for inspections. One vessel did not have a permit to cook shrimp, so the risk-based inspection frequency of every four years was incorrect.

Auditors found the use of unprotected and damaged wood, pest control issues, poor storage conditions for fishery products and animal supplements, and water on the floor can all lead to cross-contamination.

The audit team reported that the approval procedure was not always followed.

“There is a risk that establishments are not approved when required, approved establishments and vessels carry out unauthorized operations, or operations are carried out in facilities that do not meet the requirements of the EEA hygiene legislation. This can lead to the release of dangerous products on the market.

The official control of fishery products reviewed by the audit team did not include histamine testing in the relevant fish species. No histamine testing was performed at the official laboratory in Norway, and all samples taken were sent to Sweden for analysis. It was not verified whether this site was included in the official list of laboratories by the Swedish authorities.

Mattilsynet said a risk-based sampling plan, including histamine, would be drawn up and the laboratory status sorted by 2023.

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