Health for humans, animals & plants

Food control - from the field to the plate

Food safety in Austria is ensured by high quality standards and a tightly knit network of controls that begins with the producers and ends with EU-wide monitoring programs.

Today, food is safer than ever before. Although many things can make a food unsuitable for consumption or even harm health: disease-causing germs, pollutants from the environment, residues of veterinary drugs, hormones, pesticides or other substances, radioactivity, plant toxins and substances produced during preparation.

Countless chemical compounds, metals, etc. are present everywhere in the environment, including in food. Nature itself also contributes hazards: Microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, molds) cause food to spoil and cause illness. Humans also contribute through industry, transport and technology to the fact that residues of many substances can be found in food.

For many substances there are permitted maximum amounts (= limit values) in food. If these are exceeded, the food is no longer safe and may no longer remain on the market. However, exceeding the limits does not mean that the food is already harmful to health. Only if the quantities are exceeded, which indicate how much of it can be ingested daily, once, for a short time or over a longer period, can health impairments occur.

Compliance with these limits is ensured throughout the EU by a comprehensive system of controls, monitoring, investigations and assessments that begin in the field and in the barn and end at the plate.

Food control in Austria

Official monitoring is a complex system, and the Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Long-Term Care and Consumer Protection (BMSGPK) is responsible for coordinating the tasks and the agencies involved. To ensure uniform controls and a risk-based approach, official controls follow the principles of quality assurance in their activities. Food law is harmonized in the EU. Foodstuffs are thus subject to the same safety and labeling regulations throughout the EU market. There is free and active movement of goods between EU member states. Foodstuffs imported into the EU from third countries must also meet these requirements. These high food safety standards are monitored by numerous controls.

The responsibility for safe food lies primarily with the food entrepreneurs. They guarantee that consumers can buy flawless food. This is verified by official control:

In Austria, the control of goods subject to the Food Safety and Consumer Protection Act (LMSVG) (food, drinking water, food contact materials, toys, cosmetics) is organized under indirect federal administration. This means that the Federal Minister of Health delegates the task of food monitoring to the federal states. Every year, the BMSGPK prepares a control and audit plan that specifies which and how many foodstuffs and food-producing establishments will be inspected. Foodstuffs offered for sale in retail stores, restaurants or other sales outlets are also pulled by the inspectors of the food inspection of the federal provinces. With additional focus actions, foodstuffs are examined for special risks, e.g. non-permitted irradiation or certain residues such as mold toxins or pesticides.

Every year, approximately 30,000 food samples are examined in Austria by our experts and the food testing laboratories of the federal states (Carinthia, Vorarlberg). The expert opinions of these laboratories are forwarded to the authorities of the federal states. If, according to the assessment ("official opinion"), a food is not safe or even harmful to health, it must be immediately withdrawn from the market by the companies and the competent state authority (food supervisory authority) must take action. Consumers can contact the competent food authorities directly in case of problems.

In 2021, out of a total of 22,667 food samples tested, 0.4% were harmful to health(Food Safety Report 2021).

We also support the BMSGPK and the Länder with statistical and technical expertise in the preparation of various reports and in reporting obligations.

AGES Food Analysis

Our experts examine and assess food and animal feed. The analysis ranges from tests for residues of veterinary drugs, hormones, pesticides, mold toxins (mycotoxins), other contaminants to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as well as ingredients and additives in food and feed. In various areas, our laboratories are national reference laboratories for Austria.

How to keep food safe

From the moment of purchase, the responsibility for food safety lies with the consumer. Mistakes during transport and storage, but also during preparation, can lead to a safe food spoiling prematurely or, in the worst case, harming health.

Here you will find tips on the proper handling of food

Sampling and assessment

A National Control Plan (NKP) for farm inspections and sampling is drawn up annually, which provides the framework for official food monitoring in Austria. It is drawn up on a risk basis, taking into account the fundamental tasks of food law, the assessment and evaluation of existing results and current events. The aim of the NKP is an expedient and effective control of establishments and goods of the LMSVG.

The implementation and organization of the controls are carried out in indirect federal administration.

Under the responsibility of the provincial governors, the supervisory authorities of the respective provinces become active (food inspection, veterinary authority). The provincial authorities inspect the establishments in accordance with the specifications of the NKP. Among other things, audits are carried out to ensure that all the requirements of the legal regulations of the European Union and Austria are adequately met by means of appropriate self-monitoring of the products, production processes and operational hygiene.

Samples are also drawn according to the specifications of the NKP (e.g. by type of operation such as retail, wholesale, importers, catering or by product group such as meat, milk, fish, fruit, vegetables, cosmetics, toys) by the supervisory authorities of the federal states.

The planning of sample draws is risk-based and is divided into suspect samples and planned samples:

Suspicious samples are drawn based on perceptions of the supervisory authorities, because of complaints from consumers or because of indications from other authorities (national or EU).

Planned samples are routinely taken throughout the year across the entire product spectrum and statistically planned according to a risk-based approach. Product groups that pose a greater risk to the population based on previously available results or according to expert assessment are monitored more intensively. The results from these sample draws allow representative statements to be made on food safety and deception protection. They are divided into trade samples, which are passed on to consumers without any further activity and provide an overview of the market, and samples from own production (PEP) of goods that are produced, processed or handled on the farm itself.

The samples are sent to us or to the inspection bodies of the provinces of Carinthia or Vorarlberg for analysis and assessment. If the assessment ("official report") results in objections, the competent provincial authority must take measures and/or file a report.

Measures

If violations of food law requirements are found during establishment inspections or in expert reports on samples examined, the competent state authority must take appropriate measures to remedy these deficiencies. These include, for example, restricting or prohibiting the placing of the product on the market, prohibiting the use of premises or even closing down a business. The company responsible must immediately remove products that are harmful to health from the market, inform its customers and warn the public if the product has already reached consumers.

Parallel to these obligatory protection and information measures, the state authority can also report any violation to the competent criminal authority.

Product recalls and product warnings

It is also important that consumers are informed immediately about products that are harmful to their health. We provide information on warnings and product recallsforfood and children's toys (according to LMSVG - Food Safety and Consumer Protection Act) and medicines and medical devices (according to AMG, MPG - Medicines Act, Medical Devices Act).

Focus Actions

Targeted questions are examined within the framework of priority actions (SPA) . For this purpose, samples are taken from specified product groups within a defined period of time. The number of samples is calculated according to statistical aspects with regard to the significance of the results. This allows specific questions to be investigated and answered effectively and efficiently. The plan for the SPAs is drawn up annually by a panel of experts and also includes monitoring programs specified by the European Commission (e.g. the EU-wide pesticide control program).

Monitoring

Monitoring is performed to obtain an overview of the status of compliance with specific food law issues. Simplified sampling is carried out in the process. If a violation of food regulations is suspected, the competent authority is informed. Monitoring samples do not result in any immediate action, but the authority takes action to determine the causes of the anomaly. In most cases, official samples are also taken in such cases.

European networking

The control of compliance with the regulations is carried out nationally under the responsibility of the member states, which are regularly inspected in this respect by the Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) of the European Commission (EC). This is to ensure that compliance is checked as reliably and sufficiently as possible in all member states. The reports of the FVO inspections are published by the EC(The Food and Veterinary Office-Country Profiles). If the FVO finds deficiencies in the national control systems during its inspections, the member states are asked to remedy them. This will be verified during the next visit of the FVO.

In order to do justice to the free movement of goods and the protection of consumers, not only are the regular visits of the FVO established, but there are also European warning systems (RASFF, RAPEX). The European food authorities of the member states are in constant contact via these rapid alert systems: Information about food that is harmful to health or unsafe can be quickly exchanged among them. In this way, deficiencies in the Union-wide movement of goods can be quickly identified, measures can be taken and any negative effects on consumers can be kept to a minimum. The alerts are also made available to the public by the EC on an overview basis.

Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF)

The European Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed is operated and coordinated by the European Commission. All member states and third countries participating in the system are networked in it and can thus quickly and efficiently exchange all information related to food safety among themselves and with the European Commission.

If investigations of food, feed or food contact materials in a member state reveal a risk to humans or animals, this data is immediately forwarded to the European Commission. States also communicate through this channel whether other countries within the EU are affected. The European Commission then forwards this information to the affected member countries. In this way, each country can take action as quickly as possible.

Legal basis

The European Rapid Alert System RASFF has its legal basis in Article 50 of Regulation (EC) No. 178/2002 laying down the general principles and requirements of food law, establishing the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and laying down procedures in matters of food safety.

Rapid Alert System for dangerous non-food products (RAPEX)

The European Rapid Alert System for consumer products (toys and cosmetics), with the exception of pharmaceuticals and medical devices, is also operated and coordinated by the European Commission. The aim is to make the results of inspections by the authorities and voluntary measures taken by manufacturers and distributors available to other EU countries as quickly as possible.

AGES as Austria's contact point for EU rapid alert systems

Each EU Member State has a national contact point responsible for information management within their country. For Austria, the contact point is located in Salzburg in our Business Area Food Safety. The area of animal feed is handled in the Business Area Food Safety for the Federal Office for Food Safety. After receiving a notification of a risk from a food or feed product from another EU Member State, we assess whether the product has entered Austria. The alerts are forwarded to the competent authorities in the individual federal states, which then initiate the necessary measures.

EFSA - European Food Safety Authority

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is the central institution for the assessment of risks along the food chain at EU level.

Food Safety Reports

The Food Safety and Consumer Protection Act (LMSVG) stipulates that a food safety report (LMSB) must be submitted annually. This report is an important contribution to transparent consumer information and a compact reference work for all those who are interested in the safety of food and objects that come into contact with it, toys and cosmetics.

The LMSB summarizes the results of the official controls of the respective year. The main focus is the presentation of the results of the execution of the national control plan (company controls, sampling). Included in the controls are all businesses along the food chain, from agricultural direct marketers to trade and industry to retail and gastronomy.

In 2021, we or the inspection bodies of the federal states of Carinthia and Vorarlberg examined and assessed 22,667 samples. The proportion of rejected samples was 16.6%. This means that the rate of objections was slightly higher than in the previous two years.

The examination and appraisal of 18,911 samples (83.4%) revealed no cause for complaint. Ninety-five samples (0.4%) were assessed as harmful to health, and 664 samples (2.9%) were assessed as unfit for human consumption/unfit for intended use. The most common reasons for complaint were labeling deficiencies and information suitable to mislead in 2,281 samples (10.1%).

The food safety reports are published on the Consumer Health Communication Platform of the Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection.

Food Safety Report 2021 Food safety report 2020 Food safety reports 2010-2019

 

Food labeling

The basic provisions for food labeling are found in Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011 concerning the provision of food information to consumers (LMIV).

The term "food information" includes any information concerning a food that is provided to the final consumer through a label, other accompanying material or in any other form, including through modern technological means or orally.

The food information law, harmonized by legal requirements of the European Union, pursues two main objectives in addition to ensuring the free movement of goods in the EU internal market (see Article 4):

  1. Information on identity, composition, properties and other characteristics serves to protect the consumer from being misled or deceived.
  2. In addition, food information pursues the objective of protecting human health. Information relevant to health includes, for example, the nutrition declaration, information on shelf life, storage, allergens and correct use and preparation.

Basically, a distinction must be made between information provided voluntarily (compare Article 7) and mandatory information (compare Article 9).

In addition to the mandatory labeling elements for all foods, the regulation contains many detailed and special regulations as well as exemption provisions. In summary, packaged foods must be declared most comprehensively.

Deception protection

In the practice of assessing foodstuffs with regard to their suitability for misleading presentation, apart from product lines, almost every sample is an individual case. A minor change to the packaging, e.g. by changing the color, font size or omitting a picture, can already mean a completely different appearance of the overall presentation. Since the legal framework is frequently exhausted to the limit for advertising and marketing purposes, in some individual cases the assessment of deceptiveness is also a challenge for experts, and many aspects have to be taken into account.

In order to discuss such issues on a broad basis and to support well-founded assessments, a working group on "Misleading, Labeling" was set up within the framework of the official appraisal.

Mandatory information on food

Food labeling must include the following information: a. the name of the food b. the list of ingredients c. allergenic ingredients and processing aids (according to Annex II LMIV) d.the quantity of certain ingredients or classes of ingredients e. the net quantity of the food f. the date of minimum durability or the use-by date g. where appropriate, special storage instructions and/or instructions for use h.The name or business name and address of the food business operator i. The country of origin or place of provenance (if provided for under Article 26 of the LMIV) j.Instructions for use, if it would be difficult to use the food appropriately without such instructions k. for beverages containing more than 1.2 percent alcohol by volume, the indication of the actual alcohol content in percent by volume l. a nutrition declaration.

With regard to these mandatory declarations, the ordinance contains numerous exceptions and special provisions. Further mandatory declaration elements can be found in other EU regulations that have been issued for individual food categories (e.g. honey, dairy products, food supplements).

Nutrition declaration

Since December 2016, a mandatory nutrition declaration has been required for packaged foods, with a few exceptions. This is intended to support better choice, also with regard to a healthy and balanced diet, by providing information on the nutritional properties.

The mandatory nutrition information includes seven elements: the calorific value and the amounts of fat, saturated fatty acids, carbohydrates, sugar, protein and salt. In principle, these labeling elements must be declared per 100 g or 100 ml. In addition, information may be provided on vitamins and minerals contained in significant quantities. In this case, it must also be stated what percentage of the reference quantity for daily intake (based on adults) this information corresponds to. Other supplemental forms of presentation include information per serving or unit of consumption and as a percentage of the recommended reference intakes of the respective nutrients. On the main display page (front of a product), a repetition of the calorific value alone or together with the amounts of fat, saturated fatty acids, sugar and salt may be provided. The mandatory nutrition declaration may also be supplemented by the quantities of the following substances: monounsaturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, polyhydric alcohols, starch, dietary fiber.

There are exceptions to the obligation to indicate nutritional values, for example, for regionally distributed foods or direct sales in small quantities. An explanation of this can be found as information from the Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection (BMSGPK).

In order to improve the comprehensibility and informative value of the nutrition declaration, numerous new systems for the overall assessment of the nutritional profile of foods are currently being discussed. The best known system is the Nutri-Score.

The possibility of supplementary nutrition information with the Nutri-Score was opened in Germany in the fall of 2020. This is intended to facilitate a nutritional comparison of foods "at a glance" by means of color and letter markings.

Allergens

The Food Information Regulation requires the most common 14 "food allergens" to be indicated. These are substances or products that can trigger allergies or intolerances. In the case of packaged goods, allergenic ingredients must be indicated in the list of ingredients in a highlighted form (for example, by bold print or a special font). In the case of open, i.e. non-packaged, goods, information about allergenic ingredients must also be provided. Each EU member state could enact national regulations on this. Austria has implemented this with the "Allergen Information Regulation", BGBl II No. 175/2014 as amended.

This stipulates that the information can be provided either in writing in the form of signs, notices, price lists, menu plans or the menu, or orally. Oral information may only be provided by trained persons, which must be indicated in a notice. A special "allergy menu" can be used to support the oral information. In any case, traceable documentation must be available in the company.

1. cereals containing gluten, namely wheat (such as spelt and khorosan wheat), (i.e. wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt, kamut or their or hybrid strains thereof, and products derived therefrom) and products derived therefrom, with the exception of

(a) wheat-based glucose syrups, including dextrose

(b) wheat-based maltodextrins

(c) barley-based glucose syrups

(d) cereals for the production of distillates or ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin

for spirits and other alcoholic beverages

2. crustaceans and products thereof

3. eggs and products thereof

4. fish and products thereof, except for

(a) fish gelatin used as a carrier for vitamin or carotenoid preparations

(b) fish gelatin or isinglass used as a clarifying agent in beer and wine

5. peanuts and products derived therefrom

6. soybeans and products thereof, except for

(a) wholly refined soybean oil and fat (1)

(b) natural mixed tocopherols (E306), natural D-alpha-tocopherol, natural

D-alpha-tocopherol acetate, natural D-alpha-tocopherol succinate from soybean sources

(c) phytosterols and phytosterol esters derived from vegetable oils from soybean sources

(d) phytostanol esters derived from vegetable oil sterols from soybean sources

7. milk and products thereof (including lactose), except for

(a) whey for the manufacture of distillates or ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin for

spirits and other alcoholic beverages

(b) lactitol

8. nuts, i.e. almonds (Amygdalus communis L.), hazelnuts (Corylus avellana),

walnuts (Juglans regia), cashew nuts (Anacardium occidentale), pecans (Carya illinoiesis

(Wangenh.) K. Koch), Brazil nuts (Bertholletia excelsa), pistachios (Pistacia vera),

macadamia nuts and Queensland nuts (Macadamia ternifolia) and products thereof, excluding

products, other than nuts for the manufacture of distillates or ethyl alcohol

of agricultural origin for spirits and other alcoholic beverages

9. celery and products thereof

10. mustard and products thereof

11. sesame seeds and products thereof

12. sulfur dioxide and sulfites in concentrations exceeding 10 mg/kg or 10 mg/l,

expressed as SO2

13. lupins and products thereof

14. molluscs and products thereof

Gluten

Gluten, also known as gluten, is the mixture of proteins (protein fraction) found in certain cereal seeds. When in contact with water, these proteins in the grain form a special extensible framework, which is the prerequisite for certain baked goods (shape, rising of the dough). A fraction of the population cannot metabolize gluten. Due to hypersensitivity to certain components, inflammation is caused in the mucous membrane of the small intestine, resulting in destruction of the intestinal epithelial cells. Nutrients can thus only be absorbed poorly or not at all and consequently remain undigested in the intestine. This metabolic dysfunction is called celiac disease and, according to current knowledge, can only be treated by a strict gluten-free diet. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (also known as "non-celiac wheat allergy wheat sensitivity" or "gluten sensitivity") and wheat allergy must be clearly distinguished from celiac disease, although the three terms are often confused and the clinical pictures are sometimes similar in their symptoms, such as gastrointestinal complaints (abdominal pain or diarrhea) and headaches.

At the Institute for Food Safety in Vienna, we determine the gluten content in food. This is done as part of market control and to award the gluten-free symbol.

In our department Testing and Evaluation of Agricultural Varieties, at the Institute for Sustainable Plant Production, we also test cereal varieties for gluten, among other things. The gluten content is important for the bakability of a dough and is considered a quality characteristic.

We regularly provide information about product problems, including incorrect allergen labeling of foods, on our website on product warnings & product recalls.

Gluten-free food

Gluten-free is a diet without the specific proteins from the cereals wheat, rye, barley, and possibly also oats, as well as their derivatives and crosses (spelt, triticale, green spelt, einkorn, emmer, kamut,...).

Gluten is not only found in products that obviously contain components of the above-mentioned cereals, but it is also used in many ways as an ingredient in processed foods. Therefore, "gluten-free" products are available in the market. The requirements for gluten-free foods are laid down both in the Austrian Foodstuffs Book and in the corresponding EU Regulation 41/2009.

Gluten-free products are recognizable worldwide by the "gluten-free symbol", a crossed-out ear of corn symbol. This logo is a patented trademark and is awarded by the national celiac societies by means of a licensing agreement to companies that can meet certain production standards set by the European Federation of Celiac Societies. Companies interested in using the logo should contact the Austrian Coeliac Disease Association. This then arranges for an examination in one of our laboratories.

A distinction is made between:

  • Foods that are labeled "GLUTENFREI." These must not exceed a gluten content of 20 mg/kg. This includes foods that are naturally gluten-free as well as those whose naturally present gluten has been removed.
  • Foods labeled "VERY LOW GLUTEN CONTENT." Foods labeled with this may contain gluten levels above 20 mg/kg but below 100 mg/kg.

Gluten content in wheat

Gluten makes up about 80 to 85 percent of the total protein in wheat kernels (wet gluten content). Gliadins and glutenins are the main components. Newer wheat varieties usually show lower gluten contents than those registered 50 or 60 years ago. However, the actual gluten content of a given crop depends not only on the variety, but also on the production conditions. Today, wheat is produced differently than it was in the 1950s and 1960s. In particular, more mineral nitrogen is used than at that time and this raises the gluten content. Overall, therefore, the gluten content of the Austrian wheat crop has tended to remain the same (see table).

Harvest year Wet gluten content
1956 approx. 22 - 36 %1
1962 approx. 25 - 35 %2
2006 approx. 28 - 38 %3
2010 approx. 26 - 35 %4
2013 approx. 28 - 38 %5
2014 approx. 26 - 36 %6
2015 approx. 24 - 36 %7

 

Processed wheat often contains less gluten

Wheat produced and marketed in Austria is not the same as that processed by mills/bakeries for bread and pastries. In the 1950s, tens of thousands of tons of gluten-rich wheat had to be imported each year (mostly from the U.S.) to supplement domestic wheat. Currently, a considerable part of Austria's quality wheat is exported to Italy to improve the lower gluten wheat processed there. Furthermore, wheat from neighboring regions (Bavaria, Hungary, etc.) is imported into Austria. The imported wheat is usually somewhat lower in gluten than the Austrian wheat, so the gluten content of the wheat used by Austrian mills and bakeries is usually lower than that of the harvest.

Note: The "original wheats" such as einkorn and spelt, which have undergone little breeding, contain more gluten than newer soft wheat varieties under the same growing conditions.

Sources

1) Aberham H., 1956: Report on the 1956 bread grain harvest. General Milling Market, 57, 269-270 2) Aberham H., 1962: The quality of bread grain of the 1962 domestic harvest with special reference to rye baking quality. Allgemeiner Mühlen-Markt, 63, 318-323 3) Kummer C., Schöggl G., 2006: Quality of the 2006 Austrian bread grain harvest - effects on the processing properties of flours. Mühle + Mischfutter, 143, 19, 617-621 4) Kummer C., 2010: Quality of the Austrian bread grain harvest 2010 - effects on the processing properties of flours. Mühle + Mischfutter, 147, 19, 600-604 5) Kummer C., 2013: Quality of the 2013 Austrian bread grain harvest - effects on the processing properties of flours. Mühle + Mischfutter, 150, 19, 617-621 6) Kummer C., 2014: Quality of the 2014 Austrian bread grain harvest - effects on the processing properties of flours. Mühle + Mischfutter, 151, 19, 615-630 7) Kummer C., 2015: Quality of the 2015 Austrian bread grain harvest - effects on the processing properties of flours. Mill + Mixed Feed, 152, 19, 642-646.

Links

Finding agricultural plant species - AGES Variety Finder based on the Austrian Descriptive List of Varieties Testing and Evaluation of Agricultural Varieties - Institute for Sustainable Plant Production.

Implementing and delegated acts

The Food Information Regulation provides extensive powers for the adoption of further implementing and delegated acts by the European Commission

Requirements for the indication of the country of origin or place of provenance of the primary ingredient of a foodstuff

As of April 1, 2020, the Implementing Regulation (EU) No. 775/2018 will apply with rules for indicating the country of origin or place of provenance of the primary ingredient of a food. In the case of voluntary indications of origin on the packaging, such as illustrations, location information or symbols, the information on the origin of the primary ingredient(s) will become mandatory. This applies to ingredients that make up more than 50% of a food or are commonly associated by consumers with the name of the food. Questions and answers documents of the European Commission and the BMSGPK explain the implementation.

Voluntary indications on food

In addition to the mandatory labeling elements, foods may also be provided with further voluntary information, including illustrations. However, these must not restrict the space available for the mandatory particulars. Mandatory information may also not be separated or interrupted by voluntary information. For example, the mandatory list of ingredients may not be supplemented by additional voluntary text. In the case of non-mandatory information, the requirements for protection against deception must be observed.

Mandatory origin labeling

Mandatory origin labeling for meat

With the implementing regulation (EU) No. 1337/2013, the indication of the origin of fresh, chilled or frozen pork, sheep, goat and poultry meat became mandatory. The origin of beef must already be declared since 2000, with Regulation (EU) No. 1760/2000 and 1825/2000.

Mandatory origin labeling for fish

Regulation (EU) No. 1379/2013 regulates the indication of the origin of fish and seafood from seas, rivers, lakes and aquaculture. Mandatory origin information must be provided for unpackaged or packaged whole fish, fish fillets and other products, as well as for frozen, dried fish and smoked and salted fish. However, this does not apply to processed fish and processed fish products.

Microbiome analysis to determine the origin of fish

In recent years, claims about the origin of agricultural products and foodstuffs have become increasingly important for both producers and consumers. The indication of origin serves to build confidence in domestic products and is intended to protect against misuse.

However, verifying origin claims is an analytical challenge.

Within the project "Microbiome analysis for the determination of the origin of fish" we try to create the basis for an origin determination with the help of microorganisms and high-throughput sequencing (in English the term NGS is common for "Next Generation Sequencing"). High-throughput sequencing makes it possible to decode the required genetic information or gene segments from a large number of samples simultaneously in one analysis.

The goal of the project is to test whether the microbial community of fish and/or in water samples is suitable for determining origin using amplicon sequencing, a variant of high-throughput sequencing for the targeted analysis of specific gene segments.

For this purpose, five sites - all located within local boundaries of each other in Lower Austria - were selected. At these sites, fish and water samples are taken at regular intervals.

The rainbow trout was selected as the model organism. The data and knowledge gained from the study will be used to build up a reference database, which in the future will allow fish to be assigned to their Austrian origin under the defined general conditions.

Contact address: vermarktungsnormen@ages.at

With the support of the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, Federal Government & European Union.

Mandatory origin labeling for the primary ingredient

As of April 1, 2020, the Implementing Regulation (EU) No. 775/2018 will apply with rules for indicating the country of origin or place of provenance of the primary ingredient of a food. In the case of voluntary indications of origin on the packaging, such as illustrations, location information or symbols, the information on the origin of the primary ingredient(s) will become mandatory. This applies to ingredients that make up more than 50% of a food or are commonly associated by consumers with the name of the food. Questions and answers documents of the European Commission and the BMSGPK support the implementation.

Food control & deception protection

The Austrian Food Safety and Consumer Protection Act (LMSVG) contains the prohibition of placing foodstuffs on the market with information that is suitable for misleading. This includes, in particular, misleading information about the type, identity, composition, quantity, shelf life, country of origin or place of provenance, as well as manufacture or production, but also certain information about the effect or properties of a food.

The range of pre-packaged, compound foods is in a constant state of flux, with new products coming onto the market or changes being made to the presentation of existing goods. The risk of purchasing a product that does not meet consumers' expectations arises primarily when information is unclear or ambiguous and/or not all texting on the product is considered when making a purchase decision.

Information and illustrations on the main display page (front of a product) do not always have sufficient information content to adequately inform consumers about the character of a product. On the main display page, fancy names are often given and some - supposedly particularly positive aspects - are especially emphasized, while information that is important for understanding and overall assessment is placed on the back with little conspicuousness.

Tip

Therefore, when buying compound foods, don't just look at the main display page, but pay attention to the exact product name and list of ingredients, as well as the quantities of ingredients used, when making your purchase decision.

The prohibition of misleading information concerns any information

The prohibition of misleading information covers not only the label of a food product, but also any information concerning a food product that is made available to the end consumer. Other accompanying material such as sales folders, advertisements and also information provided via modern technological means or orally are also covered. Even posts on social media or "product reviews" are subject to the prohibition of misleading statements if they are to be considered commercial, product-related statements. If objective statements are placed in a commercial environment (e.g. scientific citations in webshops), they can also be judged as inadmissible under the food law provisions.

Furthermore, the form, appearance or packaging, the packaging materials used, the type of arrangement and the setting of the presentation must be taken into account. Individual elements may not be considered in isolation, but rather the overall impression is decisive, whereby responsible, informed consumers are to be used as a yardstick.

Special case of nutrition and health claims

Nutrition claims may only be used if they correspond to the permitted statements in the Annex to EU Claims Regulation 1924/2006.

The use of health claims or claims referring to the reduction of disease risk is also regulated by the EU Claims Regulation. Health claims may only be made after they have been approved at EU level. In addition, a food must meet numerous other requirements if it is to bear an approved health or nutrition claim.

Disease-related claims that attribute to a food the properties of preventing, treating or curing a human disease, or that create the impression of such properties, are generally prohibited when placing foods on the market or in advertising.

Explanations

More detailed explanations on the subject of misleading information can be found in the Austrian Food Codex in chapter A3 "General principles of assessment", in chapter A5 "Labeling, presentation" as well as in chapter A1 "Judicature on goods according to the Food Safety and Consumer Protection Act (LMSVG)". The Austrian Food Code is an objectified expert opinion.

The assessment of a misleading nature cannot be objectified by "measurements" as is the case with ingredients, since it always depends on how information about food is understood by consumers. Within the scope of the official assessment by us, commissioned tests are therefore carried out by several test persons in certain individual cases to determine the suitability of a product to mislead. This is intended to objectify personal views wherever possible, not least through a comprehensive discussion process. It is also intended to ensure as uniform an assessment as possible.

Decisions by the highest national courts and the European Court of Justice (ECJ) are decisive in this context.

Example: Deception of consumer expectations about the content of value-determining components

In Austrian case law, it was held that information about the composition of a product includes not only information about the composition of a product, such as the list of ingredients, but also the name of a product ("raspberry vinegar": an eye-catching emphasis of this name conveys the impression of a fruit wine vinegar, but according to the list of ingredients, it is a blend of wine vinegar and spirit vinegar).

In a preliminary ruling in 2015, the ECJ found that the list of ingredients, even if it is correct and complete, may be unsuitable to correct an incorrect or misleading impression resulting from the labeling (fruit tea labeled as "Felix Raspberry-Vanilla Adventure": Images of raspberries and vanilla flowers and the statements "fruit tea with natural flavors," "fruit tea blend with natural flavors - raspberry vanilla flavor," and "natural ingredients only"; the fruit tea did not contain natural ingredients of vanilla or raspberry or flavors derived from vanilla or raspberry but natural flavor with vanilla flavor and natural flavor with raspberry flavor).

According to the case law of the European Court of Justice, the average consumer who is reasonably well-informed and reasonably observant is in principle to be presumed, taking into account the overall presentation and all available information, to be aware of the presentation in the particular case.

Codex chapter A5 "Labeling, presentation" contains general statements on voluntary information on foods as well as specific guidelines on the deception-free presentation of voluntary information.

Our experts assess foods with regard to misleading information and labeling.

Claims about effects or properties

Effects or properties that a food does not possess, as well as claims that imply that a food is distinguished by special characteristics (e.g. the presence or absence of an ingredient or a nutrient or ingredient), although all comparable foods have the same characteristics ("advertising with obviousness").

Example: 100% Genuine Pumpkin Seed Oil with pumpkin illustration and the additional claim "First pressing".

Chapter B30 of the Austrian Food Book describes "Kernöl" or "pumpkin seed oil" as pure pumpkin seed oil produced by first pressing. References such as "genuine" or "100% ig" are not used. An additional indication "first pressing" creates the misleading impression that the food has special properties (produced by first pressing), although all comparable pumpkin seed oils have the same properties.

Regional reference

Many products on the Austrian market have voluntary information with reference to "Austria". Examples include flag or color red-white-red, "Austria" in the name, images such as landscapes, mountains, localities, mountain pastures, animals or traditional costumes, "produced/processed in Austria", "Austrian quality".

In order to avoid deceptiveness, Article 26 (2) of the EU Food Information Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011 requires the indication of the country of origin or place of provenance if, without this indication, it would be possible to mislead consumers as to the actual country of origin or place of provenance of the food, in particular if the information accompanying the food or the label as a whole would otherwise give the impression that the food comes from a different country of origin or place of provenance.

Precise specifications on how to correct any misleading impression have been in force since April 1, 2020 with the Implementing Regulation (EU) No. 775/2018 for the indication of the country of origin or place of provenance of the primary ingredient of a food. For more information, see the topic "Mandatory origin labeling".

Manufacturing information such as "traditional" or "artisanal".

For industrially produced goods that bear a reference to artisanal or traditional production, pay attention to whether the Austrian Food Book contains a description of a specific traditional recipe. Artisanal or traditional production is to be specifically questioned if, for example, additives are included.

Indications with reference to "farmers".

Such claims may establish a link between a product and a person or a farm-based manufacturing operation, a farm-based manufacturing operation's own raw materials, and/or the method of manufacture (make) or recipe.

Information on products with the reference to farmers, which are described in some special chapters of the Austrian Food Book, refer to traditional recipes. In the case of products from direct marketing by farmers, production by farmers from their own raw materials can be expected. In all other cases, supplementary information must be provided to clarify what the reference to "farmers" refers to.

In each individual case, aspects such as the identity of the manufacturer and the manufacturer/place of production, the essential and/or characteristic ingredients (recipe), origin/origin of the ingredient(s), manufacturing process and technology (type of production) as well as the form of presentation and circumstances of the sale (e.g. farmers' market) must be taken into account with regard to the deceptive nature of such claims.

Information with reference to "mountain/alpine/alpine".

If the designation is not merely fanciful, it may be necessary in individual cases to clarify the reference to mountains, alpine pastures or the Alps with an additional indication. Aspects relevant for the assessment are, for example, the origin or provenance of the ingredient(s), the place of processing, the production method (type of production, recipe), the type, characteristics and degree of processing of the product, the essential and/or characteristic ingredient(s) and the type of presentation.

Fruit and other illustrations

Fruit and other illustrations may be associated with a value-determining quantity of ingredients contained. However, for some products, this may also mean a reference to a flavor in conjunction with the use of flavorings, which may have potential to deceive, depending on the product and overall presentation. Clarifying information as to what the fruit illustration refers to can prevent any potential misleading effect.

Claims such as "free from...", "fresh" or "natural".

In the case of "free from..." claims, it must be checked whether the ingredient or additive in question is legally permissible in comparable foods (e.g. a food category or a subgroup thereof). If this is the case, there is no suitability to mislead. Claims such as "fresh", "natural" or illustrations suggesting "freshness", "naturalness", etc. may also be deceptive or advertise with self-evident facts.

Shopping on the Internet

The following tips can help protect against deception when shopping for food online:

Provider address

First of all, you should know that the suffix ".at" in the Internet address does not automatically indicate that the provider is located in Austria. It is advisable to consult the imprint and contact details of the provider.

Registered office and legal validity

If the company is based in Austria, there is a much better chance of enforcing consumer rights in the event of problems. Any clauses on the choice of law in the contractual provisions and/or in the GTCs should be studied thoroughly. In principle, it can also be agreed that, for example, non-Austrian or EU law will apply.

Complaints and forms of payment

In order to increase the success of complaints, the contact details of the supplier should be checked for completeness and plausibility before each order. In case of doubt, the "real store" offering Internet shipping should be selected.

Consumers are advised to choose those forms of payment that allow payment only after the consignment has been accepted and checked (e.g. invoice sent along). The following applies to credit card payments: Unlawful charges can be objected to within 4 weeks (with some card companies even 6 weeks). The credit card company must then credit the amount charged again. The credit card statement should be checked monthly.

Online recommendations

In today's Internet age, one should critically evaluate the content in chat rooms and discussion forums. Often the "testimonials" given there can be advertisements in disguise.

Food supplements and medicines from the Internet

Dietarysupplements are foodstuffs and not medicines. The sale of prescription drugs on the Internet is prohibited because safety cannot be guaranteed. The ban serves to protect against counterfeits that are dangerous to health. In internet stores capsules and tablets are sold as food supplements. Every consumer should critically check whether what is promised in terms of effects corresponds to his or her own understanding of food, or rather corresponds to a drug (= prohibited). From the control practice it shows up that with slimming products and potency means often to the illegal Zumengung of medicament active substances one resorts, in order to receive the desired effect. This makes effective products dangerous. Such products should be purchased from controlled retailers. Cheap offers can be expensive.

Legal

Mandatory components of an Internet site with an online store offer in accordance with the E-Commerce Act:

  • Name of the trader or the company
  • Geographical address
  • Information for quick and immediate contact, including e-mail address
  • Overview of the total amount of the purchase before sending the order: Net price, sales tax, other discounts or surcharges, and shipping costs (valid throughout the EU).
  • General terms and conditions (GTC) must be available in a storable and printable form
  • Explanation of all technical steps and requirements up to the conclusion of the contract
  • Explanation of possibilities to change order data or order process
  • Access to stored contract text after conclusion of contract
  • Order confirmation by e-mail

Investigations

As part of official controls, our experts check products for their composition and evaluate the designation and overall presentation with regard to their suitability to mislead.

This includes, for example, hams with too high a water content or various foodstuffs with claims that do not deliver what they promise. Great support is provided by the proven chemical analytical tests for the composition of foodstuffs, pollen analysis for honey, but also the increasingly used molecular biological methods (DNA analyses), for example, for the exact determination of the animal species (including fish species). Histological examination of tissue thin sections under the microscope can be used to detect co-processed mechanically recovered meat or tissues, such as skin, that are unauthorized and of inferior quality for meat production.

Animal species identification

Although species identification is not usually a food safety issue, it is a food quality and consumer protection issue. According to the Food Safety and Consumer Protection Act (LMSVG), it is not permitted to place adulterated food on the market. Consumers must also not be misled by false information about the nature and composition of the food. Detailed and reliable food labeling is therefore essential. To protect consumers from falsely declared meat products, it is necessary to be able to guarantee the authenticity of meat. Authenticity testing requires reliable, rapid and simple methods to enable unambiguous animal species identification and quantification.

Animal species identification: DNA as the key for plant and animal species identification.

Each species is defined by its unique genetic code. Therefore, DNA analyzing methods (e.g. PCR, sequencing) are increasingly used for species identification. At the Institute for Food Safety Vienna, animal foodstuffs such as sausages or game products are regularly checked to determine whether the declared ingredients are actually contained or whether adulterations are present.

Molecular biological methods can be used not only to detect genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and allergens in food, but also to detect animal species in food. The methods are suitable even for highly heated products, since even here sufficiently long DNA fragments characteristic of the species in question are still present.

The following two methods are routinely used to differentiate between animal and plant species:

Real-Time PCR

Real-time PCR is the method of choice at the Institute for Food Safety Vienna: it is fast, very specific and also allows quantitative statements to be made about the results.

A whole range of species-specific PCR methods for amplification of species-specific DNA sections is available, also new test methods have been developed in cooperation with the University of Vienna (e.g. for detection of roe deer, deer, wild boar), see also publication list.

Sequencing

DNA sequencing is the determination of the nucleotide sequence in a DNA molecule (also called DNA barcoding). The DNA sequence of the unknown sample is compared with a large number of entries in a database. With this method it is possible to determine a clear identification of the animal species down to the species level. Example: Determination of the fish species by comparison of the DNA sequence of a species-specific marker gene (e.g. cytochrome b from the mitochondrial DNA) with a database.

Druml, Grandits, Mayer, Hochegger, Cichna-Markl (2014): “Authenticity control of game meat products - A single method to detect and quantify adulteration of fallow deer (Dama dama), red deer (Cervus elaphus) and sika deer (Cervus nippon) by real-time PCR”; Food Chem. 2015 Mar 1;170:508-17.

Last updated: 28.02.2022

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