When we get bread at the bakery, go shopping in the supermarket or eat in the canteen, we rely on it: What we get here does not make us sick by germs, pesticides or other chemicals. Finally, the way from the field, from the slaughterhouse or from the factory to the plate is monitored by strict controls.
In recent weeks, however, one recall after another seems to pull through news tickers and black boards in the supermarket - and makes one doubt the quality of the food. Alone since the beginning of October, two meat factories had to close because of dangerous germs, twice dairies called diarrhea bacteria back contaminated milk. There are also a number of smaller recalls: lye-added beer, a mold yoghurt loaded with mold, glass, plastic or wood chips in food. Even now, in the current year, the Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food auflebensmittelwarnung.de has collected almost twice as many reports as it did in 2012, shortly after the platform was set up.
So the food controls in Germany fail?
This can not be determined solely by the increasing number of recalls. For them, there may be another, very sober explanation: "Much of what hardly anyone has noticed, reaches the consumers via the platform food warmer.de now much better," says Tobias Lackner, head of the task force food safety of the Consumer Protection Ministry of Hesse. And some previously unexplained outbreaks of foodborne infections today can be attributed to the source's germs by creating a genetic fingerprint.
Any company that neglects food safety endangers its existence in the long term. Tobias Lackner, Head of the Task Force Food Safety in Hesse
"Basically, what the food industry says is true: food in Germany is safe," says Andreas Winkler, spokesman for the consumer protection organization Foodwatch. But: "They are not as sure as they could be." Because for sloppy working companies, as the cases of recent weeks show, the control system offers loopholes. The scandal surrounding the company Wilke illustrates this particularly dramatically: Before the sausage factory could even be identified as the source of the decisive germs, according to the Robert Koch Institute at least 37 people fell ill ( Epidemiological Bulletin , No. 41, 2019). They had eaten contaminated sausages with bacteria, so-called Listeria monocytogenes - generally harmless for healthy people, but sometimes life-threatening for pregnant women and those who were weak. In the case of Wilke at least three people died after a Listeria infection, the prosecutor investigates for negligent homicide.
That it comes to that, food inspections should actually prevent. The companies are responsible for these checks: they have to take samples of what they sell and test them in the laboratory for germs such as listeria or cleaning residues, pesticides and other chemicals. The idea behind it: Producing quality food is in the interest of the factory owner. " Any company that neglects food safety endangers its existence in the long term," says Tobias Lackner of Hessen Food Safety. In addition, inspectors of the authorities randomly and unannounced check the manufactured food, work spaces, waste storage facilities and machines. Three-quarters of food companies easily survive these checks, according to the Ministry of Agriculture. And where the inspectors have something to complain about, the companies are usually "grateful for the suggestions," says Lackner.
It becomes difficult, however, when individual food companies just do not do enough to eliminate discovered hygiene problems from the world. At the Wilke factory, as reported by the Food Safety Task Force's Food Safety Task Force Hesse, published by Foodwatch, half of the self-collected samples were conspicuous in 2018, as they were contaminated with germs. Twice, the company had to recall the operation of bacteria-infested sausage from the store, which had not yet reached the supermarket, a so-called silent recall. The food inspectors tried to exert pressure: The operation, can be read in the report, had to pay fines, strengthen test for germs, multiple cleaning crews came for thorough cleaning. And yet, germ-laden meat came onto the market. The system does not seem to be designed to stop such extreme cases.
A public pillory of unclean companies?
In the report by Schimmel, pictures from the factory show infested, dripping blankets over open meat pans, mouse waste in storage rooms, rust on machines. "It is hard to imagine that there would have simply been further worked, if these states would have come to light earlier," says Andreas Winkler. Exactly in this - publishing the inspection results - might be a way to make the pressure on dirty factories more effective. In countries like Wales, this public pillory works well, with significantly more restaurants and food businesses working clean since the launch ( Report for the National Assembly of Wale s, 2018).
And another such opportunity is provided by such transparent hygiene checks: wholesalers such as canteen operators, hospital kitchens and supermarket chains have a chance to shop for quality - a real change: "So far, quality is difficult to verify, so the only criterion is how much the product costs, "says Andreas Winkler. High price pressure for companies that may promote sloppy work. " Hygiene problems in food businesses are often the result of a lack of expertise or an investment backlog," says Tobias Lackner. Means, simply put: money problems, which may prevent the urgently needed remedial action at some companies.
But apart from such problems of the food market, the control system is also ailing itself. It lacks the backbone, the controllers. Far too few are employed in Germany, said the chairman of the professional association of food controllers Anja Tittes recently in the New Osnabrücker Zeitung . With devastating consequences: not even half of the ordered controls would be carried out. Non-hygienic companies may get away faster. A report from the European Consumer Organization shows that the number of inspections in Germany from 2007 to 2017 has even dropped by a good fifth.