Slotting into the European framework regulation EC/178/2002 laid down in January 2002, the new rules (Articles 14 to 20 of the regulation) enforced this month set out general provisions for imposing the traceability of food and feed.
While food firms have always been under the legal duty to ensure that all food in the chain is safe, the new rules now formally require that they notify the local authorities should a food or feed withdrawal from the market arise.
Reflecting the new rules, the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) said this week it had set up a rapid access channel for food and feed businesses to signal the food agency about any new product withdrawals from the market.
"They should also notify the local authority where the food business operator is based, or, in the case of imports, the relevant Port Health Authority," adds the FSA.
The number of food-linked alerts in the European Union leapt by over 40 per cent in 2003 on the previous year, with the majority sourced in the 'old' member states.
As today, the national authorities will feed information about the withdrawals to the European alert hub, the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF).
In place since 1979 the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF), broken down into ' alerts' and 'information' notifications, provides national authorities with a tool to swap information on national measures taken to ensure food safety, namely foods withdrawn from the food chain.
'Alerts' require immediate action due to the risk of food contamination to the consumer, whereas for 'information' notifications the food product has yet to reach other member markets in the RASSF network.
A recent report from RASFF reveals the number of 'information exchanges' - alerts and information combined - had risen from 3024 in 2002 to 4286 in 2003. The new traceability rules in force since January are likely to boost these figures.
According to the annual RASFF report a total of 454 alert notifications and 1856 information notifications were received in 2003.
Food makers operating in today's climate have no choice but to implement rigorous food safety tools, from machinery to staff training, into their daily costs.
But putting a price on food safety is 'frankly impossible' because it is totally integrated, says Francois Perroud, a spokesperson for number one food maker Nestle.
At every level quality systems are in place to protect our reputation - including the day to day finely-tuned tracking in our 500 factories, he recently told FoodNavigator.com.