Introduction to the Rapid alert system for food and feed (RASFF)

The legal basis of the RASFF is Regulation (EC) N° 178/2002. Article 50 of this Regulation establishes the rapid alert system for food and feed as a network involving the Member States (EU + EFTA/EEA), the Commission and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Whenever a member of the network has any information relating to the existence of a serious direct or indirect risk to human health, this information is immediately notified to the Commission under the RASFF. The Commission immediately transmits this information to the members of the network. Article 50.3 of the Regulation gives further details on when a RASFF notification is required. Without prejudice to other Community legislation, the Member States shall immediately notify the Commission under the rapid alert system of:

  1. any measure they adopt which is aimed at restricting the placing on the market or forcing the withdrawal from the market or the recall of food or feed in order to protect human health and requiring rapid action; any recommendation or agreement with professional operators which is aimed, on a voluntary

  2. or obligatory basis, at preventing, limiting or imposing specific conditions on the placing on the market or the eventual use of food or feed on account of a serious risk to human health requiring rapid action; any rejection, related to a direct or indirect risk to human health, of a batch, container or cargo of

  3. food or feed by a competent authority at a border post within the European Union.

This report provides information on the functioning of the RASFF in 2005 and, in particular, on the number of notifications, the origin of the notifications, the countries involved, the products and the identified risks. Some caution needs to be exercised when drawing conclusions from these figures. For example, it is not because a Member State has a relatively high number of notifications that the situation regarding food safety would be bad in that country. On the contrary, it could indicate that a greater number of food checks are carried out or that the communication systems in that Member State function well.
The number of notifications concerning third countries cannot be compared with those concerning Member States. For third countries, controls can only be carried out on the product as it enters the Community. On the other hand, within the EU, controls are performed throughout the entire food and feed chain, and therefore food or feed hazards are often detected at an early stage of production. For all these hazards detected during production, there is no RASFF notification since the product did not reach the market.

To assist the members of the network1, information is classified under three different headings:

Alert notifications

Alert notifications are sent when the food or feed presenting the risk is on the market and when immediate action is required. Alerts are triggered by the Member State that detects the problem and that has initiated the relevant measures, such as withdrawal/recall. The notification aims at giving all the members of the network the information to verify whether the concerned product is on their market, so that they also can take the necessary measures.
Products subject to an alert notification have been withdrawn or are in the process of being withdrawn from the market. The Member States have their own mechanisms to carry out such actions, including the provision of detailed information through the media if necessary.

Information notifications

Information notifications concern a food or feed for which a risk has been identified, but for which the other members of the network do not have to take immediate action, because the product has not reached their market. These notifications mostly concern food and feed consignments that have been tested and rejected at the external borders of the EU.
Products subject to an information notification have not reached the market or all necessary measures have already been taken.

For both types of notifications follow-up notifications are sent by members of the network giving details of the distribution or the origin of the product, additional analytical results, documents accompanying the consignment, measures taken etc. These follow-up notifications are referred to as “additional information notifications”.

News notifications

Any type of information related to the safety of food or feed which has not been communicated by a Member State as an “alert” or an “information” notification, but which is judged interesting for the food/ feed control authorities in the Member States, is classified and made available as a news notification.

As far as alert and information notifications are concerned, two types of notifications are identified:

An original notification sent by a member of the RASFF system can be rejected from transmission through the RASFF system, after evaluation from the Commission, if the criteria for notification are not met or if the information transmitted is insufficient. The notifying country is informed of the decision not to transmit the information through the RASFF system and is invited to provide additional information allowing the rejection to be reconsidered by the Commission.
An alert or information notification that was transmitted through the RASFF system can be withdrawn by the Commission at the request of the notifying country if the information, upon which the measures taken are based, turns out to be unfounded or if the transmission of the notification was made erroneously.