It found procedures are in place for risk based planning of official controls, however, risks of microbiological contamination in primary production of Food of Non Animal Origin (FNAO) were not included in the risk assessment at the time of the audit in March last year.
The recently adopted procedure for food hygiene controls with focus on microbiological risks in primary production of FNAO was in the first stage with initial controls on farms being carried out.
From 2011 until 2014, there were 370 RASFF notifications concerning pathogenic micro-organisms in fruit and vegetables, according to FVO.
Preventing microbial contamination
The audit reviewed official controls for food hygiene to prevent microbiological contamination in primary production of FNAO, including seeds intended for sprouting and sprouts.
It also covered planning and implementation of official controls, control procedures and sampling performance.
The audit team visited two fruit production and three vegetable production sites, two sprouting plants, two fruit and vegetable processors and four companies involved in RASFF notifications concerning Hepatitis A virus in frozen blackberries.
Within the Bulgarian Food Safety Agency (BFSA), the Food and Border Regulation Control Directorate is responsible for controls in the food chain, except farms.
Sprout producers and freezing companies for soft fruits are considered medium-risk which results in an inspection every three months.
Staff were informed about new EU sprouting regulations but specific training was not provided, said FVO.
There are four sprout producers in the country and the two visited were registered at the time of the audit; however, they were not approved as sprouting establishments.
Good hygiene practice guidelines
FVO said there were no national guides to good hygiene practice to control hazards in primary production of FNAO and the competent authority didn't provide evidence that development of such guidelines is encouraged.
“All greenhouses were inspected and certified by private sector Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) schemes. One producer stated that this was requested by his clients in another country, not by the Bulgarian retailers.
“The three greenhouses were inspected shortly before the time of the audit. In all these inspections it was the first time that the inspectors used the new procedure and checklist of 25/2/2015 for microbiological contamination in primary production.
Responding, the BFSA said: “At this stage there are not drafted national guidelines for good hygiene practices related to microbiological contaminants of food of non-animal origin, as required by Article 7 of Regulation (EC) № 852/2004.”
The audit team reviewed the follow- up of notifications related to Hepatitis A contamination of a mixture of frozen berries, containing blackberries from Bulgaria.
They met representatives of four companies involved and were informed that corrective actions including improving auto control systems in three of four firms were implemented.
The fourth company was involved in trading of the consignment, not the processing.
Samples could not be analysed in Bulgaria for Hepatitis A virus, but some were sent for this testing in another member state.
At the time no official or private laboratory existed, which was accredited for detection of food-related viruses, mainly norovirus and hepatitis A virus (HAV), although the implementation and validation of ISO/TS 15216-2:2013 for the detection of norovirus in food was planned.
From the beginning of 2015 an accredited laboratory is operating in Bulgaria for detection of STEC in food of non-animal origin according to ISO/TS 13136:2012.
The audit team visited the National Diagnostic and Research Veterinary Medical Institute (NDRVMI) in Sofia and the official test laboratory of the Laboratory Activities Department in the Blagoevgrad regional food safety directorate.
FVO said both laboratories were accredited according to ISO 17025:2005 and capable of analysing food samples for Salmonella spp., L. monocytogenes, and E. coli as in Regulation (EC) No 2073/2005.