Sprouted seed suppliers dogged by last year's tragic E.coli outbreaks in Germany and France are hoping to regain the trust of consumers following the adoption of new EU rules improving traceability.
The rules were adopted by the EU Standing Committee of the Food Chain and Animal Health on Monday and come almost 18 months after the EU fresh produce sector was plunged into crisis following the E.coli outbreaks – subsequently traced to fenugreek seeds imported from Egypt – in which over 30 people died.
The legislation includes the approval of sprout-producing establishments, the tightening of traceability requirements, and new testing for the absence of pathogenic E.coli. It also provides a model import certificate that will confirm that good agricultural practices have been adhered to in growing any seeds imported into the EU.
During consultations over the past year, sprouted seed growers reached out to national and European authorities to improve food safety, the European Sprouted Seeds Association said. "The proactive involvement of growers across Europe has helped to achieve a feasible and harmonised approach," added Cynthia Anderson interim ESSA president.
The FSA "negotiated changes to the proposals which will reduce the burden on businesses," a spokeswoman said. It intends to publish an impact assessment on the changes.
The new rules will apply from March, with a transition period lasting until 1 July 2013 for the new import certificates.
The rules come after the European Food Safety Authority's BIOHAZ Panel concluded – in November last year – that sprouted seeds were 'ready-to-eat' foods and recommended they should be subject to general EU food safety hygiene rules.