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For European authorities, companies and consumers, safety is the most important ingredient of their food. Crises in the past have undermined public confidence in the capacity of the food industry and of public authorities to ensure that food is safe. The EU has identified food safety as one of its top priorities and is focused to ensure a high level of protection of human health  and consumers' interests in relation to food, taking into account diversity, including traditional products, whilst ensuring the effective functioning of the internal market. Also the European food industry addresses food safety issues at every stage of the chain, involving their own suppliers in the compliance of food safety requirement.

This integrated �farm to fork� approach is considered to be a general principle for EU food and  feed safety policy. It guarantees a high level of safety for foodstuffs and food products marketed within the EU, at all stages of the production and distribution chains. It involves both food and feed products produced within the EU and those imported from third countries. Since food and feed of animal origin does not fall within the scope of the CBI product groups these are not included further in this document.


Outline of the legislation

Regulation (EC) 178/2002 also known as the General Food Law, constitutes the framework of European food law. The General Food Law establishes that all food marketed in the EU must be safe. It lays down definitions, principles, obligations covering all stages of food and feed production and distribution, and requirements on transparency in the food chain. These principles form a horizontal framework, on which other food legislation in the EU is based.

The General Food Law is supplemented by a number of Regulations and Directives which form legislative basis of the European food policy. The scheme below provides an overview of the structure of EU food safety legislation.


Regulation (EC) 178/2002: General Food Law
Regulation (EC) Regulation (EC) Regulation (EC) Regulation (EC)
882/2004: 852/2004: 853/2004: 854/2004:
procedures general hygiene specific hygiene controls of
official controls rules for all feed rules for food products of
and food products of animal origin
products animal origin
Complementary Regulations, Directives and Decisions



The Regulation covers all food marketed in the EU, in all stages of production, processing and

distribution while the primary responsibility for ensuring compliance rests with the food



Definition of food

Food of foodstuff means any substance or products whether processed, partially processed or

unprocessed intended to be, or reasonably expected to be ingested by humans. Food includes

drink, chewing gum and any substance, including water, intentionally incorporated into the

food during its manufacture, preparation or treatment.

The Regulation establishes several basic principles for food marketed in the EU. Other

European food safety legislation concerning hygiene, controls, contaminants and others is

based upon the principles in this law. The basic principles are outlined in the text below:

1. Food safety

2. Responsibilities

3. Traceability

4. Presentation

5. Precautionary principle

��For more information on Regulation (EC) 178/2002 please refer to the external link.


1. Food safety

Food is not allowed to be placed on the EU market if it is unsafe. Food is considered unsafe if

it is injurious to health or unfit for human consumption. This general food safety requirement

implies that although a product that complies with all specific requirements of food legislation

(e.g. contaminants in food, etc.), it is not allowed on the market if a new hazard is found for

which no requirements yet exist.

The following assumptions should be checked in order to establish food safety:

Unsafe: the normal conditions of use of the food by the consumer, and at each stage of

production, processing and distribution are taken into account, as well as the information

provided to the consumer.

Injurious to health: probable immediate, short term and long term effects (including future

generations) of the food to health, probable cumulative toxic effects, and particular health

sensitivities of a specific category of consumers should be considered.

Unfit for human consumption: if the food is unacceptable for human consumption according

to its intended use, for reasons of contamination, whether by extraneous matter or

otherwise, or through putrefaction, deterioration or decay.

If food that is found to be unsafe is part of a batch, lot or consignment, it is presumed that all

the food is unsafe, unless a detailed assessment proves that there is no evidence that the rest

of the batch is unsafe. Food that complies with specific EU requirements on food safety is

considered safe insofar as it concerns specific issues for which the requirements are set. If

however, despite compliance to these requirements, the competent authorities have reasons to

suspect that the food is not safe, they can still require withdrawal from the market.


European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)

The European Food Safety Authority is the keystone of EU risk assessment regarding food and

feed safety. In close collaboration with national authorities and its stakeholders, EFSA

provides independent scientific advice and technical support for the EU�s legislation and policy

in all fields related to food and feed safety. It provides independent information on all matters

within these fields and communicates on risks.

��For more information on European Food Safety Authority, refer to the external link.


The Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF)

RASFF is warning system network that enables the rapid exchange of information whenever a

risk to feed or feed safety is identified. If a member of the network becomes aware of a

potential risk to human health, if notifies the European Commission, which immediately

transmits this information to the other Member States authorities.

The EU publishes a weekly overview of alert notifications, information notifications and border

rejections on the web site of the RASFF.

��For more information on RASFF refer to the external links section


2. Responsibilities

Food business operators at all staged of production, processing and distribution of food are

primarily responsible for safe food. They have to ensure that food under their control meets all

the safety requirements of the EU law. If the food is unsafe, they cannot place it on the

market. Further, they are obliged to withdraw and report to the competent authority if they

have suspicion that their food products do not meet the standards. All imported products have

to meet the European food law standards.


3. Traceability

The Regulation includes provisions on the traceability of food in the food chain. At all times the

origin of food products must be retrieved. Article 18 of the Regulation specifies the

requirements. Strictly speaking the requirements apply to food and feed businesses located in

the EU (including importers). They are obliged to:

a. know and document from whom they have bought their food (ingredients)

b. know and document to whom they supply their products

c. label their products so that they can establish traceability in case of a food safety problem.

However, importers are likely to request to trace the food supplied in the chain. Importers are

legally responsible for marketing the food in the EU and therefore must be able to guarantee

that the food brought onto the market meets all EU requirements. Thus you must be aware

that although this subject is not a compulsory requirements for producers from developing

countries, more and more European buyers and importers are setting traceability requirements

to their suppliers in order to comply with their own obligations.


Supply chain management

Please note that your company is also part of a supply chain and therefore your EU buyer

might set requirements related to his supply chain management. You might have to pass on

some requirements to your supplier as well in order to fulfill the requirements of the EU

markets. To know more about Supply Chain management and how this system can help you to

comply with your buyers� requirements, find more information in the document mentioned in

the related documents section.

��For more information on traceability for food, refer to the related document.


4. Precautionary principle

The General Food Law establishes that food legislation is based on scientific risk analysis. This

analysis consists of risk assessment, risk management and risk communication. Risk assessments are based on available scientific evidence and must be undertaken in an independent, objective and transparent manner. Risk management takes the results of the risk assessment into account, but also the opinions of the European Food Safety Authority.

If after an assessment of available information the possibility of harmful effects on health is identified, but scientific uncertainty persists provisional measures may be necessary. This is called the precautionary principle. Such measures need to be proportionate and no more restrictive of trade than is required to achieve the high level of health protection in the European Community. The measures are reviewed within a reasonable period of time. This  period depends on the nature of the risk to health and the type of scientific information needed to clarify uncertainty.


5. Presentation

Food law aims at the protection of the interests of consumers in relation to the foods they consume. Provision of food law about the food labelling, advertising and presentation of food including their shape, appearance, packaging and packaging materials used cannot mislead consumers.


Relevance for developing countries

Food and feed imported to the EU for marketing shall comply with the relevant requirements of food law or conditions recognised by the Community (article 11, Chapter 2). If specific agreements exist between the EU and your country, all food should comply with those requirements. These requirements are laid down in the supplementary Regulations that together make up the EU food safety legislation.

��For more information on the Regulations and other legislative requirements for food

marketed in the EU, please refer to the related documents.

Source: CBI Market Information Database URL: Contact:

Last updated: October 2008