The main purpose of the inspection is not to penalize the traders, but to make sure that consumers buy healthy and correct groceries. That is the main motto for inspectors from the Sector of Agricultural Inspection at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management, Gordana Pavlovic and Goran Mrdovic. Through regular inspection visit to a retail facility of a large retail chain, they showed us what this responsible and demanding job means.
Inspection starts even before they physically start the visit – it begins in the office where inspectors collect all the data on the registration of the entity that will be supervised. After making sure that the entity is registered in the Serbian Business Registers Agency and the Central Register managed by the Ministry, they go out to the field, and they do not enter the retail facility without an order, issued by the chief of inspection, the head of the department.
During regular inspections, it is customary that the trader is not notified about the arrival of the inspectors. Hence the employees in a shop in Zemun were confused, but only for a short while. When the manager looked at the order, he realized that it was a regular inspection and everyone was relieved.
The inspections in retail facilities focus on hygiene and the declaration of goods, and the job of inspectors is facilitated by a checklist, which contains more than 60 items that need to be checked.
- Managers do not see the checklist for the first time, it is available on our website, so they can do a self-assessment from time to time. For us, it is a tool for inspection, and for traders, it is a guideline on what they must pay attention to - Gordana Pavlovic tells us.
The list of items includes the hygiene of the facility, the presence of pests, disinfection and deratization, tidiness of toilets, ventilation... The floor, walls, ceiling, windows and doors are also under scrutiny, and for all parts of the building there are prescribed rules about the material they should be made of, as well as the maintenance procedure. Inspectors also check the neatness of employees' work clothes, as well as whether those who handle perishable food wear gloves and use utensils hygienically.
Inspector Mrdović points out that the reception and storage of food must be organized so that there is no cross-contamination, as well as that food and other products that are not used for human consumption, must not be in direct contact.
- The main objection for this shop was that the goods that are stored in the warehouse are located on the floor. Although these are bottled products, they must be elevated, at least on pallets. Also, shelves and cabinets in which food is stored must be at least 20 centimeters away from the wall, so that the floor can be cleaned quickly and easily from all sides - Mrdovic points out.
Inspectors control the temperature at which food is stored in refrigerators with a standard digital thermometer and note that employees are obliged to do so once a day, at the beginning of the shift, to check whether the refrigeration devices are cooling well.
The sharp eye of an expert cannot miss anything, so the inspectors notice that there is no declaration under the crate with apples, because the workers mistakenly covered it with plastic indicating the price of the fruit.
- Next to fruits and vegetables, there must be a declaration with information about the producer. Consumers need to know what they are buying. It happens that fruit traders lower the price and sell it, but they do not have the right to do that, because rotten fruit can not be sold at all - inspectors explain.
Goods whose packaging has been damaged can not be found on the shelf. This usually happens with flour and sugar, when paper bags are torn and spilled. Packaging can not be glued or repaired, such food must be withdrawn from sale.
After the inspection visit, the inspectors compile a report and enter the data from the supervision order, a description of the actions taken and a list of taken documents, as well as the factual situation and a list of detected irregularities with evidence. They also prescribe the measures, indicating the legal grounds for their introduction, and the deadline for acting on them.
- If the controlled entity states objections within the prescribed period, we evaluate them and after that we can do additional supervision. If new facts and evidence are presented in the remarks, which change the factual situation, we compile an amendment to the record. The proposed measure can be changed or it can be abandoned - explains Mrdovic.
The inspectors have the jurisdiction to prohibit the trade until the elimination of irregularities, if the food is not labeled, declared, advertised and displayed in line with the Law on Food Safety and other special regulations. The work is further taken over by the judicial authorities.
Candy boxes and puddings
An important segment of inspection is checking the expiration date. Although customers generally pay the most attention to meat and milk and their products, inspectors say they often find other types of food that are out of date.
- It often happens that we find luxury chocolates and other sweets on the shelves, which are less often bought, due to the high price, and the retailers pay less attention to them because they do not belong to easily perishable products. There are also instant soups, teas and cake toppings, such as pudding, baking powder and vanilla sugar - says Inspector Mrdovic.
Results in 2020
The Department for the Safety of Plant-Based Foods employs 25 agricultural inspectors who are deployed on the territory of the Republic of Serbia. During 2020, they performed 3,155 inspections for the safety of food of plant origin. They identified several irregularities and took measures, including 285 administrative measures and 59 punitive measures - 46 requests for initiating misdemeanor charges and 13 charges for economic crime.
* The text was created within the project of the inspection system reform. It is implemented by the Ministry of Public Administration and Local Government and the Coordination Commission of the Government of Serbia for Inspection Supervision, in cooperation with NALED and the Support Unit of the Coordination Commission. The project was supported by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)