A workshop supports Western Balkan countries to better respond to food safety emergencies.
Challenges highlighted include enhancing cooperation between different food safety agencies, ensuring cross-border information sharing, and enabling joint investigation and response to food safety emergencies. Such incidents include foodborne disease outbreaks, food fraud and adulteration, chemical contamination and other non-compliance with regulations.
November 2021 face-to-face workshop in Durrës, Albania including 25 participants from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Kosovo.
Officials from each country spoke about their existing food safety systems, identified challenges and gaps, and outlined recommendations for improvement.
WHO Regional Office for Europe, International Food Safety Authority Network (INFOSAN), Canadian Food Inspection Agency, German Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) and European Commission Health and Food Safety Directorate General (DG Sante).
The focus is on risk analysis, which provides national authorities with an approach to evidence-based decision-making. It consists of three parts: risk assessment; risk management; and risk communication. Risk analysis is used to estimate the risk of food safety to human health, to identify and implement controls, and to communicate the risks and measures taken.
In the Western Balkan countries, there is a need to improve the use of Procedures for investigating and responding to food safety incidents and emergencies. According to the workshop report, there are often time constraints, lack of data and knowledge gaps in such events.
Some countries lack risk-based tools, standard operating procedures and instructions, procedures and guidelines to effectively respond to foodborne illness and to communicate and share information.
In terms of actions to enhance food safety, Montenegrin officials expressed the need to develop an operational plan for responding to incidents and conduct simulation exercises
Strengthen risk assessment capabilities and introduce a unified approach to health is a key theme in North Macedonia. Bosnia and Herzegovina focuses on improving food safety incident management through training and simulation exercises and the ability to jointly investigate and respond to outbreaks. Another area is the development of a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) monitoring program.
Albanian officials stressed the need to assess the legal framework and develop a national food safety response plan. Other areas are the establishment of a food safety network in Serbia and the development of a legal framework and response plan for emergencies in Kosovo.
Meeting participants agreed on the need for a subregional page community website in INFOSAN for emergency contacts and points of contact in the Western Balkans to facilitate communication and information sharing among countries in the region .
Another area is the possibility to allow Western Balkan countries to access the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) platform for food safety incident information.
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