Monitoring of farmed fish in Norway found low levels of pharmaceuticals and environmental toxins and an audit found the fish control system could be improved.

The fish tested for the illegal compounds were collected at the farm level by inspectors from the Norwegian Food Safety Authority (Mattilsynet), without prior notification.

In 2021, 2,827 samples were tested, consisting of 14,135 farmed fish, for residues of illegal substances, steroids and unauthorized veterinary drugs. They included Atlantic Salmon, Rainbow Trout, Atlantic Cod, Turbot, Arctic Char, Brown Trout, Spotted Bass and Atlantic Halibut.

Samples examined for illegal compounds were taken at all stages of breeding. Those tested for approved veterinary drugs and contaminants came from processing plants and represent farmed fish ready for human consumption.

The Marine Research Institute analyzed the fish for the presence of illegal drugs, legally used veterinary drugs and environmental toxins.

No residues of stilbenes, steroids, chloramphenicol, nitrofurans or metronidazole were found in the samples. Additionally, no malachite green or brilliant green residue was detected. Crystal violet dye residue was detected in two salmon samples, but it was likely caused by contamination during sample collection, according to a follow-up investigation.

Levels of dioxins found in fish fillets were lower than the previous year. No veterinary drug residues were found and for contaminants none of the samples exceeded EU maximum limits where such levels have been established, such as for mercury, lead and cadmium.

Conclusions of EFTA audits
Meanwhile, an audit by the EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) revealed problems with the frequency of official controls on fishery products and the approval of establishments in Norway. Nine recommendations were made.

The assessment in March this year found that the official control system is risk-based and covers the production of fishery products from catch to consumer. It included eight processing plants, a cold store, four landing sites, a fishing vessel and an official control laboratory.

The ESA is responsible for monitoring how Iceland and Norway apply European Economic Area (EEA) rules on food safety, feed safety and animal health and welfare. .

Norway is one of the largest producers of fish products in the world. The main export markets are China and EU countries such as Denmark, Poland, Germany and the Netherlands.

From 2019 to 2021, there were 10 Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) reports of fishery products from Norway, three of which were due to Listeria and Anisakis .

The auditors advised fish producers to develop national guidelines on good hygiene practices and the application of HACCP principles. Mattilsynet is developing a plan to train food inspectors on auditing HACCP systems.

Issues detected by auditors
The risk-based system is based on microbiological issues and does not include chemicals. Some controls are impacted by a lack of resources. Examples of insufficient communication and cooperation between head office and regional offices were noted by the auditors, which may have resulted in the release of non-compliant products.

Factory and freezer vessels must be inspected every four years. Factory vessels that cook shrimp must be inspected once a year. The authorities had not been able to respect this frequency for inspections. One vessel did not have a shrimp cooking approval, so the risk-based inspection frequency of every four years was incorrect.

Auditors noted the use of unprotected and damaged wood, problems with pest control, poor storage conditions for fish products and animal by-products, and water on the floor, all of which can cause cross contamination.

The audit team stated that the approval procedure is not always followed.

“There is a risk that establishments are not approved where necessary, that approved establishments and vessels carry out operations for which they have not been approved or that operations are carried out in installations which do not meet the requirements of EEA hygiene legislation. This could lead to the marketing of dangerous products. »

The official controls of fishery products examined by the audit team did not include tests for histamine in the fish species concerned. The official laboratory in Norway did not carry out histamine tests and all samples received were sent to Sweden for analysis. It has not been verified whether this site is listed as an official laboratory by the Swedish authorities.

Mattilsynet said a risk-based sampling plan, including histamine, would be developed and the lab situation resolved by 2023.

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