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Audits find gaps in seafood controls in Iceland


Iceland has been advised to improve official controls on shellfish and fish products.

An audit in May 2022 looked at hygiene controls of fishery products and fish oil for human consumption. Another in August and September covered live bivalve mollusks, including blue mussels.

Iceland is a substantial producer of fishery products. The biggest export markets are the United States, United Kingdom, China, and some European member states.

Iceland is in the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). The EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) monitors how the country implements European Economic Area (EEA) rules on food and feed safety as well as animal health and welfare.

The first audit found the official control system is risk-based and controls are in line with established frequencies. However, there was a lack of controls on landing sites, and the list of registered vessels used to plan the checks was inaccurate. Auditors said that authorities need to ensure that all relevant official controls are carried out and documented.

From 2019 to 2021, there were four RASFF reports about fish products from Iceland. They concerned Listeria monocytogenes in smoked salmon in 2020 and Anisakis parasites in cod twice in 2020 and once in 2021.

Examples of issues found
The audit team noted that certain vessels exceeding 1,000 tons had not been inspected annually from 2018 to 2022, contrary to Iceland’s risk-based system for official controls.

“This leads to some vessels not being inspected as required and an increased risk that unsafe fishery products are being placed on the market,” said the report.

They also found a lack of training in HACCP audits increases the likelihood that incomplete or partially functioning HACCP systems are permitted to operate.

In one case, auditors saw that an establishment received conditional approval with some structural issues still outstanding. A year later, after having received final approval, these problems had not been fixed. In another case, a newly approved site producing ready-to-eat food was granted final approval without a review of the HACCP system. Auditors also found shortcomings in official controls undertaken to review changes in processes, new equipment, or facilities of existing approved establishments, meaning sites can remain approved while no longer meeting legal requirements.

At one plant, fish that had fallen off the production line onto the floor was picked up and placed directly back on the line. This was addressed by MAST inspectors during the visit.

There was no documented evidence that official controls included organoleptic examinations or checks for parasites and some companies could not prove they were doing these checks. Both of these factors increase the likelihood of unsafe fish products being brought to market, said auditors.

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) said it would draw up a plan of official control of fishery products for 2023-2025, covering organoleptic examinations, freshness indicators, histamine, residues and contaminants, microbiological checks, and parasites. The agency began changing the organization of controls in October 2021 and this was expected to be complete by the end of 2022.

Follow-up mollusk assessment
In the second audit, ESA found that not enough progress had been made since a past visit. A 2019 audit concluded Iceland could not guarantee mussels on the market were safe to eat.

Three of six previous recommendations had been addressed. There were improvements in sampling and analyses of phytoplankton and marine biotoxins but the frequency was not enough.

Live bivalve mollusks were placed on the market by a producer with a valid harvesting authorization but who had bought them from another producer whose authorization had been revoked in 2021 because of high cadmium levels. This means mollusks harmful to consumers’ health were intentionally placed on the market. MAST had only recently become aware of this and actions to address it were ongoing at the time of the audit.

Another producer had put bivalve mollusks on the market five times during 2021 when he did not hold a valid harvesting authorization. According to calculations of the MAST inspector, at least 500 kilograms of such mollusks were sold in 2021, seriously jeopardizing consumer health. No enforcement actions were taken against the company and the producer did not apply for harvesting authorization in 2022.

Auditors said findings confirm authorities have not established a system of official controls sufficient to prevent such non-compliances. If they had taken adequate actions to address recommendations made in the 2019 audit, these problems could have been prevented.

Concerns were also raised about the credibility of results for marine biotoxins from a Swedish lab.

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