Food control and inspection in Germany
Targeted checks serve to enhance consumer health protection. The private sector, public authorities and consumers all have an active role to play.
It is primarily the responsibility of the involved actors within the private sector to ensure the proper composition, characteristics and labelling of the foodstuffs they place on the market. It is the duty of the competent authorities to check the marketability of foodstuffs by carrying out regular controls and targeted sampling. Yet consumers can also make an active contribution to food safety.
Official food control and inspection
In Germany, the responsibility for official food control and inspection rests with the federal states (Länder). The competent Länder ministries draw up monitoring programmes that are carried out by the food inspection and veterinary offices in the urban and rural districts. The Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) provides assistance in this regard by acting in a coordinating and advisory capacity.
There are control programmes on a nationwide scale such as food monitoring, the National Monitoring Plan (BÜP) and the Multiannual National Control Plan (MNKP).
The controls are carried out at production and processing establishments for foodstuffs, commodities or cosmetics, at retail outlets and at border inspection posts. Restaurants and communal catering facilities also undergo regular checks.
Immediate checks in the event of acute problems
The competent food inspection and veterinary offices in urban and rural districts determine the number of samples they take based on the level of risk. In order to ascertain this level, records on businesses are kept and the businesses then classified into risk categories. If acute problems emerge, inspections are carried out without delay and further action is taken if necessary.
The food inspections are conducted by veterinarians, food chemists and appropriately qualified inspectors. They may take samples against receipt and these samples are then forwarded to laboratories for analysis and assessment. The Länder laboratories examine a total of approx. 400,000 samples every year.
The type of sampling used is generally specified in the legislation, thus ensuring that the obtained data are standardized and can withstand judicial scrutiny. The samples are tested for different ingredients, for bacteria and for compliance with the maximum levels laid down by law. Products that fail the tests and that pose a risk to consumer health are withdrawn from the market. In addition to this, the presentation and labelling of products is also controlled.
In-house checks carried out by the private sector
Businesses that produce, process and sell foodstuffs are required to document the quality of the raw materials used by carrying out in-house checks. Furthermore, all businesses must keep a record of whom they bought the foodstuffs and ingredients from and to whom they resold them. If a foodstuff poses a risk, it is thus possible to rapidly ascertain where this risk arose from (e.g. a contamination incident).
How you can help
If you have evidence of poor hygiene or wrong food labelling/composition in businesses that manufacture, process or sell foodstuffs, you should inform the local food inspection authorities. If you purchased a foodstuff that deteriorated before the best-before or use-by date or that exhibited other shortcomings, you are also entitled to call in the local food inspection authorities. Please get in touch with your town or municipal administration and ask for the body in charge of food inspection and control.
The Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety provides further detailed information on the issue of food inspection and control.
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