Hygiene of foodstuffs

On the basis of the principle that every European citizen is entitled to a varied diet of safe and wholesome food and that all information on the composition, manufacturing processes and use of foodstuffs must be clear and accurate and with a view to guaranteeing a high level of public health, the European Union and its Member States have placed food safety high up on the European political agenda. Hence, after several years of discussion, the European Union finally adopted, on April 19, 2004, the "hygiene package". Composed of 5 legislative texts, this regulations package aims to redesign, harmonize and simplify the numerous existing European regulations on food hygiene. The objective is to set up a single policy with regards to hygiene applicable to all foodstuffs and all stakeholders in this sector ("from the farm to the table"), to create effective instruments making it possible to guarantee food safety and to manage potential crises throughout the food chain. These proposals also recommend the implementation of a permanent dialogue between the consumers and the professional stakeholders in the food sector in order to re-establish trust, insisting on the need for providing the consumers with clear and precise information on the quality and composition of the food products. The EC regulation No. 825/2004 - referred to as "hygiene" - is one of the texts of this package. It was published in the Official Journal on April 30, 2004 and will be applied, at the earliest, on January 1, 2006. This regulation replaces and abrogates the European Directive 93/43/EEC and applies to the whole food chain, including primary production and animal products. This regulation, which establishes general rules with regards to hygiene of foodstuffs for stakeholders in the food sector, remains rather close to Directive 93/43 in terms of results to be achieved rather than means, but it also contains certain innovations, such as the fact that all the companies in the food sector must declare their activities to the proper authorities. In particular, it takes into account the following principles. a) the food sector operator is responsible for food safety; b) it is necessary to guarantee food safety throughout all stages in the food chain, starting from primary production; c) it is important to maintain the cold chain for the foodstuffs which cannot be safely stored at ambient temperatures - in particular frozen foodstuffs; d) generalized application of procedures based on HACCP principles, combined with the implementation of good hygiene practices, should reinforce operator responsibility in the food sector; e) good practice guides are an invaluable tool, helping operators in the food sector to comply with the food hygiene rules at all stages in the food chain and to apply HACCP principles; f) it is necessary to set microbiological criteria and requirements with regards to temperature control based on scientific evaluation of the risks; g) it is necessary to guarantee that imported food products meet at least the same medical standards, or equivalent standards, as those produced in the European Community. Hence, the objective of the food hygiene package is to provide a joint legislative base at a European community level, simplifying the accumulation of the various former regulations and ensuring a coherent approach to food safety throughout the food chain, through the implementation of controls for the establishments, the use of veterinary services, and through the introduction of control points at all stages in the food chain.