Brexit: Unknown food safety inspections on imports from the EU

Food inspector Natasha Varley secures chicken box contents with tape

The food inspection team at the largest container port in Britain claims that they are in a "difficult position" due to the lack of clarity surrounding post-Brexit checks on imported food.

Beginning in October, importation paperwork will be examined; physical inspections will follow in January.

The government claims to be developing the inspection standards.

However, according to Suffolk Coastal Port Health Authority, their absence is "really quite significant.".

Just food coming from outside the European Union (EU) is currently subject to inspection.

Government worries about the potential burden on businesses have already caused a 18-month delay in the checks at ports like Felixstowe in Suffolk.

Importers will be responsible for paying the inspection fees for EU food.

operations manager Hannah Panting
The Suffolk Port Health Authority's Hannah Panting has four months to get ready for the start of EU food import inspections.

Nearly half of the food consumed in the UK is imported, and more than two-thirds of that comes from EU nations, according to the Department of Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

According to Operations Manager Hannah Panting, Defra has informed them that between 1% and 30% of EU food imports will require inspection by the health authority. Without knowing the precise percentage, she claims, it is difficult to plan.

Working with the unknown is very challenging, she claims. "Having a strategy and understanding your goals is nice.

"If there aren't many checks, I might not need as many employees, but if there are many checks, we obviously need to turn things around quickly and get the trade moving along smoothly. ".

It puts me in a challenging situation. ".

Port of Felixstowe docks
One of the final steps in the Brexit transition is the inspection of imported food from the EU.

Out of 2,400 EU food safety laws, Britain has only repealed eight so far since the Brexit vote.

When the government planned to check EU food imports in October 2022, more employees were hired by the port health authority.   .

Staff had to be reassigned within the local council, which oversees the Port Health Authority, due to delays. However, Ms. Panting cautions that she may still require additional staff in the future.

She adds that trailers from the EU arrive in Felixstowe at midnight on a ferry, and that checks must still be completed "in a timely manner" to avoid "delaying trade.".

The new inspection system, according to a Defra spokesperson, will "strike the right balance between protecting the UK's biosecurity and supporting businesses moving goods into Great Britain," she added.

The spokesperson stated, "We have been carefully considering what more we can do to support business readiness for the introduction of new controls." "We have been closely listening to the feedback we have received from stakeholders," the spokesperson said.

Natasha Varley, food inspector tapes boxes of chicken up
Products from various compartments of a container are examined before being repackaged.

Each day, between 40 and 70 containers from outside the EU are physically inspected by the team, which examines 100,000 containers yearly.

The health authority, which has 100 employees, examines product labels and opens packages to check for compatibility. Additionally, they compare documents to certificates.

Before beginning her position as an inspection officer two years ago, Rose Waugh, 30, worked in a school.

She notes that a lot of the chicken is from Thailand, some is from China, and a lot of the fish is from Ecuador and Morocco.

"On one occasion, we discovered parasites inside the fish's mouths. They were unsafe to eat because they were acquiring the sea bream's tongues.   .

"Finding that was pretty disgusting for coworkers, but satisfying to know we'd removed it from the food chain.".

Sea Bream infected with parasite
Seized sea bream with parasites controlling the fish's tongues.

Damelis Quiones, a veterinarian with the port health authority, warms up some cooked chicken, pulls it apart, and tastes it to make sure it is not rotten.   .

She claims that when something is frozen, the smell and texture are hidden. Once it is cooked, the smell will become more acute. ".

As a former employee of a slaughterhouse, Ms. Quiones is aware of the danger that diseases like African swine fever pose to the food supply. The pandemic altered their perception of infectious diseases as well.

According to Ms. Quiones, animals are the main source of illnesses. From animals to people, they transition. ".

Veterinarian Demelis Quienes
Ms. Quiones is required to prepare and sample some of the imported higher risk meat.

Ms. Quiones thinks food inspections will become more and more crucial because the UK's exit from the EU is anticipated to result in new trade agreements, such as the importation of more chicken from Brazil.

We cannot afford to let our guard down because there is constant surveillance, she says. "Britain has a very good position in this as an island, and we need to take care of it. ".

Colin Wilson, a 40-year-old business support manager, ensures the accuracy of documents from importers.   .

"We have to be really on our toes," he said, "as more and more markets open up throughout the world, we'll get more and more produce coming in, more exotic commodities.".

"Since the world is constantly changing, we must also adapt and change along with it.

. "

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