A workshop helped Western Balkan countries better respond to food security emergencies.
Among the challenges highlighted were strengthening cooperation between different food safety agencies, ensuring cross-border sharing of information, and enabling joint investigations and responses to food safety emergencies. These events include foodborne outbreaks, food fraud and adulteration, chemical contamination, and other regulatory non-compliances.
The November 2021 face-to-face workshop in Durrës, Albania brought together 25 participants from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Kosovo.
Officials from each country spoke about the food safety system they had in place, identified challenges and gaps, and listed recommendations for improvement.
This was followed by presentations from the WHO Regional Office for Europe, the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN), the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the German Federal Office Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) and the Directorate General for Health of the European Commission. and food safety (DG Health).
Emphasis has been placed on risk analysis, which provides national authorities with an approach for making evidence-based decisions. It consists of three parts: risk assessment; risk management; and risk communication. Risk analysis makes it possible to estimate the food safety risks for human health, to identify and implement measures to control them, and to communicate on the risks and the measures applied.
Country specific focus
In the Western Balkan countries, there is a need to improve the procedures used for investigation and response to food safety incidents and emergencies. During such events, there are often time constraints, lack of data and knowledge gaps, according to the workshop report.
Some countries lack risk-based tools, standard operating procedures and instructions, procedures and guides to respond effectively to foodborne illnesses and to communicate and share information.
In terms of actions to strengthen food security, Montenegrin officials said it was necessary to develop an operational plan to respond to events and conduct simulation exercises to test it.
Strengthening risk assessment capacities and introducing the One Health approach were key topics for North Macedonia. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, emphasis was placed on improving food safety incident management through training and simulation exercises and joint investigation and outbreak response capabilities . Another area was the creation of a monitoring program for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
Albanian officials highlighted the need for an assessment of the legal framework and the preparation of a national food safety response plan. Other areas included establishing a food security network in Serbia and developing a legal framework and emergency response plan in Kosovo.
Meeting participants agreed on the need for a sub-regional page on the INFOSAN Community website for Western Balkan emergency contacts and focal points to stimulate communication and information sharing between the nations of the region.
Another area concerned the possibility of granting Western Balkan countries access to the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) platform in order to obtain information on events to food security.
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, Click here.)