In 1979, on the proposal of the European Council, “The rapid alert system for food and feed” (RASFF) was conceived and launched. It was officially established with Regulation (EC) no. 178/2002 laying down the general principles and requirements of food law, establishing the European Food Safety Authority and laying down procedures in food safety matters. In 2016, the RASFF brought together the food safety authorities of the member states of the European Union, Norway, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Switzerland (EFTA), and the European Commission, EFSA.
It is defined as an alert system in the form of a network, for the notification of a direct or indirect risk to human health from food or feed, according to Article 50 of Regulation (EC) no. 178/2002. Over the years, it has been extended to the risks associated with materials and objects intended to come into contact with food – FCM (respectively with Regulation (EC) No. 1935/2004) and feed for pets – pet food (Regulation (EC) No. 183/2005).
The system collects and publishes notifications and alarms within Europe relating to health risks in a short time, specifying the notifying country, the type and reasons for the notice, and the country of origin of the product. Trademarks and company names are not disclosed, seeking a balance between public information and the protection of commercial interests. The data is communicated and shared among the members of the network in real-time through the i-RASFF online platform implemented by the IMSOC system.
The IMSOC system complements the existing IT systems managed by the Commission and it is used for official controls as well. It is used to exchange data, information rapidly, and documents concerning the risks to human health, animal health and welfare and plant health.
Following the ascertainment, and sometimes even the suspicion, of a non-compliance at the border of the Union or within the Union, the competent authorities activate the RASFF notification system.
When non-conformities are associated with risk (serious, not serious or undecided) to human, animal or environmental health, the alert system’s notifications are:
- alert (A notification of a risk that requires rapid action. The product subject to an alert must be withdrawn or recalled from the market)
- information for follow-up
- information for attention
- border rejection (A notification about a product that was refused entry into the market for reasons relating to a serious risk to human health. Food can also be subject to information for attention or information for follow-up. These are both notifications that do not require rapid action either because the risk is not considered serious, or the product is not on the market at the moment of the notification.)
Alert and border rejection are the notifications that have a strong impact on public health.
The RASFF portal provides various information on products such as *The classification of the notifications, * The date of the case, * The notifying country, * The subject, * The product category, * The product type, * The risk decision.
If other details are needed, it is possible to extract information on: * The action taken, * The distribution status, * The hazard, * The category, * The analytical result, * The sampling date.
The benefits of the information provided through RASFF are especially relevant for:
*Importers: RASFF allows them to take advantage of the information about global imports/exports and thus prevent future detentions; and
*Consumers: RASFF ensures consumers the security of traceability and provides them information about the most frequent risks.
If the product subject to notification is still available on the market, it is necessary to activate the withdrawal and recall measures as required by Regulation (EC) 178/2002.