Many people wonder how food safety works in Italy. Every one of us should have good hygiene habits to avoid diseases. But what does the government do to ensure food safety for us? What are all the laws and regulations that control it? I did some research to explain to you how the system works.
Food is completely safe to eat in Italy. The government is very strict when it comes to food safety. You are unlikely to have problems when eating at supermarkets and restaurants. But you should take some precautions before consuming any meal.
There is a lot more that you should know before eating food in Italy. You will learn how the sanitary works and what you can do to stay safe.
How Do Food Safety Regulations Work in Italy?
Italy has one of the best food safety systems in the world. So, you don’t need to worry that much, even if you have immune issues. Over the past few years, the government has made several changes to control food.
It can be dangerous to eat food without first checking it. So, the laws are here to ensure the health of all consumers. Every product needs to be suitable for human consumption. They must be properly treated at all phases by following precise rules.
Who Regulates Food Safety in Italy?
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) controls the food in all of Europe. It was founded in 2002 due to a food crisis. Basically, it gives scientific opinions that form the basis of food safety laws in all European countries.
One of the most important food safety laws is the (EC) Regulation N. 178/2002. It explains the common risks that every producer must understand. You will find the general principles and requirements of food law.
Also, there is the Italian Ministry of Health, which protects all consumers. It judges if the methods are safe to use or not. If you have a specific problem with food safety, you can contact it through social media or email.
What Are The Food Safety Regulations in Italy?
It is up to food manufacturers to ensure the safety of their products. The Art. 5 of the (EC) Regulation N. 852/2004 defines all the methods that they must follow. So, there are special systems that show what is right and whatnot.
The most popular food safety system in Italy is called “Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points” (HACCP). Everyone in the food industry must respect these rules from restaurants to road haulages. The standards are based on scientific evidence of the risks to human health.
The HACCP system tries to spot where dangers occur in the food production process. It identifies what could make a product unsafe to consume. For example, a critical point could be temperature, additives, pH levels, etc.
Unlike the HACCP system, it is not obligatory to use the standard ISO 22000. It is an international norm that anyone can adopt. ISO uses very similar measures of control as HACCP.
Along with the HACCP and ISO 9001 systems, it forms the “hygiene package.” Some basic principles of this food safety bundle are:
- Food safety must be ensured during all the food chain
- Manufacturers are the main responsible for their products
- The consumer has an active role in food safety
- Operators must intervene using the “Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed” (RASFF)
- All products must be traceable
The “Good Manufacturing Practices” or GMPs are a set of rules that regulate food production. Basically, they check the products that come into contact with food. For example, they could be bottles, cans, cardboard packaging, etc.
In all European countries, the (EC) Regulation N. 2023/06 controls these activities. Even if they seem inoffensive, containers can be dangerous to human health. This is why all food professionals must respect GMP rules.
What Phases Are Controlled?
The government controls all phases of the food chain. In every stage, the products must satisfy the HACCP standard. But to make it clear, here are all the phases that the state regulates:
In the food chain, the products can be contaminated due to physical, chemical, and biological factors. Thus food experts work to intercept the hazards before consumption. But make sure to take some precautions by yourself as well.
Who Is Involved in Food Safety?
Italy has a well-structured system to check if a product is safe to eat. It is the Ministry of Health that manages control practices. Then it delegates qualified authorities to do the work. They can use any model that I’ve mentioned before.
Also, Municipalities have to control the production, trade, and consumption of food. They must provide food safety through the Local Health Authorities.
Who Checks The Food in Italy?
There are many experts and institutions that control food safety in Italy. Each one of them works in a different aspect to protect consumers. The Legislative Decree N. 300/1999 defines their role as food control authorities. They verify if a company is taking the right hygiene measures.
Some of the major authorities responsible for food safety are:
Food Business Operators or OSAs (Operatori del Settore Alimentare) have a vital position in food safety. They are responsible for ensuring compliance with the terms of food law. But they only have control of the food business that they were assigned.
The operators must verify the whole food chain process. If there is a problem with the product, the FBOs are the first accountable. They must quickly retire it from the market and notify consumers. In extreme situations, they also have to recall the product.
According to the Supreme Court of Cassation, OSAs must take the right measures depending on the components of the food. They can’t just control what the provider has asked them to check. So, they must assure the quality of the product under their own ability.
The food control authorities “N.A.S.” are a special department of the Carabinieri army. Their role is to carry out investigations, control the products, illegal activities, and more. There are 1096 specialized units in all the Italian territory.
NAS command has the right to intervene at any time and place. It can decide if a food business is taking the proper ways to handle the food. There is also a subcategory known as “AIFA” that controls drugs.
In most cases, they focus on the ways that businesses use to store food. The place and equipment must be clean all the time. Also, Carabinieri checks the labeling and the origin of the product.
Local Health Authorities (ASL) belong to the Italian Public Administration. They monitor and inspect food safety with their directors. Also, each region uses a different company name due to Art. 3 d.lgs 502/92. They do the tasks of the NHS (National Health Service).
Here are some of the ASL’s functions in food safety:
- Official control of food products
- Prevention from mushroom poisoning
- Inspections and monitoring of suspected or ascertained cases of infections, poisoning, and food-borne toxins
- Surveillance in plant protection products
- Reception of complaints or reports for food safety issues
The Ministry of Agricultural Food Policies (ICQRF and MIPAAF) is one of the major European agri-food control agents. It controls the food using a commodity type system. Also, it coordinates the agricultural, forestry, and fisheries terms.
According to the Activity Report of 2019, only ICQRF officials made 55,539 controls. They seized 72 million kg of products worth over 301 million euros. The 88% were food products, and the other 12% were technical means for agriculture.
Environmental Protection Agencies (ARPAs) work to control plant-based food. They check if there is any contaminant in the product. Also, ARPAs give analytical and technical-scientific support to other food authorities.
Some ARPAs and other plant-based food authorities functions are:
- Soil analysis
- Irrigation water analysis
- Control of contaminants from nearby areas
- Control of cultivation practices that the manufacturer uses
The veterinary services control the food of animal origin. They provide data and certificates to help other authorities do the work. Also, they check if public or private places like restaurants respect the laws.
Usually, all foods of animal origin are riskier to eat than plant-based ones. This is why the law gives more attention to them. The (EC) Regulation N. 852/2004 includes products like eggs, milk, fish, meats, seafood, etc.
Veterinary services also work for animal welfare. They control the ways that farmers use to move and breed animals. You can see all the rules in the (EC) Regulation N. 882/2004.
The Italian Coast Guard works to preserve human and animal life. They usually control fish products in places like restaurants. Also, the Coast Guard checks for frauds such as illegal fishing and illicit sales.
What Other Rules Do They Consider?
Fruits and Vegetables
According to Art. 113a of the Regulation (EC) N. 1234/2007, all fruit and vegetable products must be of high quality. They can’t go to the market if they don’t reflect the proper standards. Also, the product must show the country of origin. Some fruits and vegetables come from places such as Brazil and Africa.
As for pesticide residues, the Regulation N. (EC) 396/2005 imposes some limits. In most cases, Italian producers follow them. In fact, only 0.9% of the products were irregular in 2017, according to the Ministry of Health. You are very unlikely to have problems with fruit and vegetable products.
Meats and Seafood
All food products must have a label, including fishes, meats, shellfishes, seafood, etc. It must tell the consumer the origin country and how they got the animal. Also, the (EC) Regulation N. 853/2004 establishes all the food of animal origin hygiene laws.
It is illegal to use hormones to grow animals in Europe. The (EC) Directives N. 96/22 and 2003/74 ban the usage of hormonal, thyrostatic, and beta-blockers substances. In some cases, it is allowed to use antibiotics to treat the animal.
Is The Food in Italy Virus-Free?
Many people worry about catching a virus through food. But according to many studies, it is unlikely to happen. Viruses only survive for a few hours or days on surfaces. They must have a living cell to spread out.
Food safety rules not only control infections such as bacteria and fungi. But also other types of pathogens like viruses. So, food service workers are very careful when dealing with food. They wear gloves and masks all the time and change them regularly. The laws cover all the practices to prevent microorganisms from food.
The Ministry of Health says that viral respiratory infections don’t affect food. And this is the case of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). It can only infect food if someone with it sneezes or coughs on the product or a surface. But it will die after a few days during the food chain.
What About Other Infections?
There are many viruses and germs in the environment. Some examples are Hepatitis A, Rotavirus, and Norovirus. They spread out via fecal-oral routes due to bad hygiene practices. Most of the time, food authorities do an excellent job of preventing them.
Other infections are Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Listeria monocytogenes. Bacteria can live even outside a body for a long time. Food safety standards already cover these types of germs.
EFSA advises taking these safety precautions to avoid catching any virus or infection:
- Wash your hands frequently
- Wash fruits and vegetables using simple sanitizers
- Cook animal source foods
- Separate raw and cooked foods to avoid cross-contamination
Where Is It Safer to Eat in Italy?
You should always get food from reliable places in any country. Authorities advise only to trust sellers with a license. Often they give more certainty on the traceability, origin, and conservation methods of the product.
The 2019 Global Food Security Index ranks Italy as number 23 in food quality and safety. So, you will be absolutely fine in most places. Just take the usual precautions and proper food safety practices.
Probably, grocery stores are one of the safest options to get food. They are very quick to pick up harmful products from the shelves. Also, all foods include a label, and most of them are sealed. Supermarkets usually have the best hygiene when it comes to selling food.
I rarely have problems when I buy food at Italian supermarkets. Most products match the quality standards that the government requires. You are very unlikely to find a damaged or expired product.
Restaurants are, for the most part, safe to get food. You shouldn’t have any safety issues when eating out. The chances of getting a virus or food poisoning are pretty low. Authorities control restaurants very often.
Still, I encourage you to examine the place before you order. It is best to read some opinions online and see what other people say. Also, listen to government directions and stay up to date with the latest news.
Street Food Vendors
Street Food Vendors often don’t follow food safety measures. For example, some kebab sellers freeze and refreeze products. They could also reuse the same oil dozens of times. Not everyone is like that, but you should be aware.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying to avoid street food completely. I’m from Bari, and it is common to see ladies making Orecchiette and Sgagliozze in the streets. I’ve never heard someone that got sick from food. And I believe that it is one of the best experiences you could have if you take the right measures.
If you want to learn more about the typical food of Bari, make sure to check this post. You will find some of the best dishes and how to eat each one of them.
What Can You Do to Stay Safe From Food?
There are many things you can do to stay safe from infections. Most of the time, diseases occur due to our negligence. We can prevent many germs and viruses only by taking simple precautions. As the hygiene package says, consumers have an active role in food safety. Anyway, here are some tips that will help you do so:
- Check the label carefully: Labels have critical information to help you choose the best product. You will see the origin country, date of production, processing area, etc. If an animal was transported around the world, it probably didn’t have a great life. Italian products are often the safest to get.
- Avoid eating meats from unofficial sellers: You should avoid or at least minimize eating meats in the streets. Many sellers don’t follow proper methods to store foods of animal origin.
- Get travel insurance: Many people underestimate the power of having travel insurance. Bad things can happen to anyone in any place. Don’t see it as an extra expense, but as an investment in yourself and your family. You can get World Nomad insurance by clicking in this link for an affordable price. Lonely Planet recommends it as well.
- Use a food thermometer: You should keep foods at the right temperatures. And the best way to do so is with a thermometer. Keep hot food at 140 °F or warmer, and cold food at 40 °F or colder. Cooked foods must not stay at room temperature for more than two hours to avoid germs.
- Prefer warmer meals: Viruses, bacteria and other germs die at very high temperatures. So, prefer to eat warmer meals at home and at restaurants. If a waiter brings you a cold or semi-warm dish, you could say: “Mi scusi, può riscaldare il mio piatto per piacere?”.
- Let yourself enjoy meals: Food safety is important, but don’t let germs and fear ruin your trip. If you come to Italy, don’t be afraid of eating food. Just take the precautions that everyone tells you. Most problems occur when we stress out too much.
What If The Product Is Unsafe To Consume?
There are several consequences for sellers that don’t follow hygiene standards. Food safety is related to public health. You will need to go to court to file a complaint. Here are the things that you must show to ask for compensation:
- Proof of product defect: You will have to show some evidence to the court. You can present a photo or the product itself. The picture must display clearly what the problem is.
- Proof of the damage suffered: You can only claim for personal injury or death. So, you will need the presence of a doctor (it can be the first aid). Also, you must specify what health damage you got.
Finally, you will need to wait three years to get a statute of limitations. The procedure starts when the consumer spots the problem. You can check all the retired products on the Ministry of Health website.