Food control and inspection in Germany

Targeted checks serve to enhance consumer health protection. The industry, public authorities and consumers all have an active role to play.

Legal bases

Food law requirements have been largely harmonised within the European Union (EU). The so-called Basic Regulation, Regulation (EC) No 178/2002, forms the basis of EU food legislation. In accordance with the food safety requirements laid down in Article 14 of this Regulation, which are directed at food business operators in particular, food which is unsafe may not be placed on the market.

The general principles and requirements for the placing of food and feed on the market in the Basic Regulation include in particular

  • consumer health protection,
  • protection against deception and fraud,
  • the precautionary principle,
  • the traceability of foodstuffs, and
  • individual entrepreneurial responsibility.

Numerous other EU Regulations and Directives ensure that there is a uniform level of consumer protection against health hazards and fraud in the Member States. These also encompass, inter alia, Regulation (EU) 2017/625 (so-called EU Control Regulation) which, as another EU Basic Regulation, ensures official checks and thus compliance with the legislation, including the measures following official checks.

The "General Administrative Regulation on Principles Underlying the Official Monitoring of Compliance with Provisions of Food, Animal By-Products, Wine, Feed and Tobacco Legislation (General Administrative Regulation on Framework Monitoring – AVV RÜb)" defines more precisely the requirements set out in the EU Regulation on Official Controls (Reg. (EU) 2017/625) and is thus the fundamental piece of legislation for the harmonised implementation of official controls throughout Germany within its scope of application. It also serves as an internal control instrument for authorities to determine frequencies for regular checks.

In-house checks carried out by industry

Businesses that produce, process and sell foodstuffs are required to guarantee the safety and quality of the products used by carrying out their own in-house checks and to document this accordingly. Furthermore, all businesses must furnish proof 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 at which point this risk arose (e.g. via contamination).

Food inspection

In Germany, the responsibility for official food control and inspection rests with the federal states (Länder) pursuant to the Basic Law. As already mentioned, it is primarily the responsibility of the economic operators concerned to ensure food safety as well as the proper composition, characteristics and labelling of the foodstuffs they place on the market. To complement this, it is the duty of the competent authorities to verify if food business operators complied with these due diligence requirements by carrying out regular and risk-based checks and sampling. In this context, this is therefore often referred to as "controlling the control".

The federal states draw up monitoring programmes that are implemented by the food inspection and veterinary offices in towns and rural districts. In addition, there are nationwide control programmes such as the Food Monitoring Programme, the National Monitoring Plan (BÜP) and the Multiannual National Control Plan (MNKP).

Controls are carried out at all levels ("from farm to fork"), i.e. in plants that manufacture and process foodstuffs, consumer products and cosmetics, in retailing and at border inspection points. The restaurant and catering sector and communal catering facilities also undergo risk-based regular checks.

To this end, records of businesses are kept by the competent food inspection authorities and veterinary offices and the businesses are then classified in risk categories. In addition to the risk-based checks, there are also incident-related checks to inquire into urgent issues. Where infringements are identified, the competent authorities take the necessary measures to remedy the situation.

Food inspections are carried out by appropriately trained inspectors in cooperation with food chemists and veterinarians.

How you can help

If you have evidence of poor hygiene, incorrect food labelling or incorrect composition in businesses that manufacture, process or sell foodstuffs, you should inform the local food control 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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