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

Monitoring of farmed fish in Norway has revealed low levels of pharmaceuticals and environmental toxins and an audit has shown that the fish control system can be improved.

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

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

Samples examined for illegal compounds were collected from all stages of farming. Those tested for approved veterinary drugs and contaminants came from processing plants 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 residues of stilbenes, steroids, chloramphenicol, nitrofurans or metronidazole were found in any of the samples. Also, no residues of malachite green or brilliant green were detected. Residues of the dye crystal violet were found in two salmon samples, but this was probably caused by contamination during sampling, a follow-up study shows.

The dioxin content in fish fillets was lower than in the previous year. No residues of veterinary medicinal products were found and for contaminants none of the samples exceeded the EU limits where such levels have been established, such as for mercury, lead and cadmium.

EVA audit findings
Meanwhile, an audit by the EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) has revealed problems with the frequency of official controls for fishery products and the approval of establishments in Norway. Nine recommendations have been made.

The review in March this year found that the official control system is risk-based and covers the production of fishery products from catch to consumer. It included eight processing plants, one cold store, four landing sites, one fishing vessel and an official control laboratory.

ESA is responsible for overseeing how Iceland and Norway implement European Economic Area (EEA) rules 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 from Listeria and Anisakis.

Auditors advised fish producers to develop national guidelines for good hygiene practices and application of HACCP principles. Mattilsynet is developing a plan to train food inspectors in checking HACCP systems.

Issues found by auditors
The risk-based system is based on microbiological issues and does not include chemicals. Some controls are affected by a lack of resources. Auditors have seen examples of insufficient communication and cooperation between headquarters and regional offices, which may have resulted in non-compliant products being brought to market.

Factory and freezer vessels require an inspection every four years. Factory vessels that cook shrimp must be inspected once a year. The authorities could not have respected this frequency for inspections. One ship did not have shrimp cooking approval, so the risk-based inspection frequency of every four years was wrong.

Auditors noted use of unprotected and damaged wood, problems with pest control, poor storage conditions for fishery products and animal by-products, and water on the floor, all of which can cause cross-contamination.

The audit team indicates that the approval procedure is not always followed.

“There is a risk that establishments are not approved where required, approved establishments and vessels carry out work for which they are not approved or that work is carried out in establishments that do not comply with the requirements of EEA hygiene legislation. This can lead to unsafe products entering the market.”

The official controls on fishery products assessed by the audit team did not include testing for histamine in the relevant fish species. The official laboratory in Norway did not perform histamine testing and all samples received were sent to Sweden for analysis. It was not verified whether this site was listed as an official laboratory by the Swedish authorities.

Mattilsynet said a risk-based plan for sampling, including histamine, would be developed and the lab situation would be resolved by 2023.

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