Controls of food and consumer goods
Finnish Customs examines imported foods of non-animal origin as well as the safety and compliance of certain utility and consumer goods in accordance with its sampling plan. Customs also examines some of the so-called combined foodstuffs, which include, in addition to ingredients of a plant origin, refined animal-based ingredients. Customs’ competence is based on the Food Act, the Consumer Safety Act, the cosmetics Act and the Chemicals Act. The control samples are analysed at the Customs Laboratory. The results are reported regularly to e.g. Finnish Food Authority and the EU Commission.
Customs only controls commercial imports. The examined foodstuffs can be intended for private use, institutional catering (restaurants, foodservices etc.) or as raw-materials for the food industry. Examined commercial goods in turn, are goods intended for private consumption or products used in connection with consumer services.
How are products controlled?
Customs controls the import of products on the product lists below both in EU’s external and internal trade. Goods to be cleared through customs are generally not released onto the market until they have been examined by the laboratory. In internal control, restrictions on movement i.e. prohibiting the introduction of goods, is only implemented in certain cases.
The control of products and qualities, which are most likely to deviate from set norms and regulations, are carried out based on risk assessment (e.g. products under EU-wide increased control). See more details in section: ‘Increased import controls of foodstuffs and food contact materials’.
The holder of goods has the choice to have a counter sample taken in accordance with specific applying regulations.
The examinations concern for example food additives, traces of plant protectants, mould toxins, other foreign substances as well as the microbiological quality and genetic modification of foods. The examinations include e.g. examining the conveyance of heavy metals and various other harmful substances into supplies and materials that come in contact with foodstuffs. Consumer goods, on the other hand, are examined for example regarding the mechanical and chemical properties of toys, the colouring agents in textiles, prohibited and restricted ingredients in cosmetics and the heavy metal content in non-genuine jewellery. Warning labels and other package labels on foodstuffs and consumer goods are also inspected.
What happens to the goods that breach regulations?
If, during examinations, a product is found to breach regulations, the Product Safety Unit of Finnish Customs makes a decision in the matter. Customs cleared goods items, which are found to breach regulations are not released for free circulation. The operator is responsible for taking released products in breach of regulation off the market. Finnish Food Authority and the Finnish Safety and Chemical Agency (Tukes) provide guidance if necessary.
The return of rejected goods back to the seller (cancelling the purchase) or other forms of export may be possible under case-specific conditions. A goods item that breaches regulations can also be destroyed under customs control, either at the request of the holder of the goods or on order by the authorities. A Goods items can possibly be made compliant with the regulations through reconditioning (e.g. by changing package labels) and in some cases the product safety unit may approve some other use for the goods item.
All procedures except destroying the goods require written approval from the product safety unit. Destroying the goods is agreed upon with the supervising customs office.
Regarding a product item in breach of regulations, planned actions must be taken within six months from the date the decision on rejection made. The six-month time limit was implemented from the beginning of 2018.
Please note! The Finnish Food Authority controls the import of animal-based foodstuffs (e.g. meat, fish and milk). The relevant market surveillance authorities control consumer goods that are not inspected by Customs itself. Customs assists other authorities as agreed.
Points to consider
- vegetables, mushrooms and their derivative products
- fruits, berries and their derivative products
- nuts, almonds and their derivative products
- juices, drinks (not ones subject to the Alcohol Act) and drinking stuffs
- cocoa, coffee, tea and their derivative products
- grains, grain products and bakery products
- leguminous vegetables, seeds (not sowing seeds) and their derivative products
- sweets, chocolate and other sugar products
- spices and seasoning products
- gravies, soups, broths and soup ingredients
- food products, desserts and snack products
- food greases and oils (non-animal-based)
- food/dietary supplements and novel foods
- baby food, special food products for athletes, clinical nutrients
- combined foodstuffs (only if less than 50 % of the product is processed animal-based stuff)
- foodstuff additives.
- tableware meant for use with foodstuffs, cutlery, household supplies, household machines and packaging material that comes into contact with foodstuffs
- toys (products and materials meant for children under the age of 14)
- clothes and other textiles for babies and toddlers (under the age of two)
- clothes meant for children and youths, with cords and strings
- textile and leather products that come into contact with the skin (e.g. underwear, bed linen, shirts, hats, scarves, gloves)
- textiles that do not come into direct contact with the skin (e.g. outer clothing, bedspreads)
- metallic objects that come into contact with the skin (e.g. non-genuine jewellery, watchbands, press studs, zippers)
- child care supplies (e.g. changing mats, diapers, bibs, pacifier chains etc.)
- Cosmetic products
- Candle products
- certain plastic products (PVC and other plastics; incl. office supplies, household supplies and toiletries, packing materials)
- reflectors meant for consumer use.
The EU Regulation 2017/625 (Article 35) on official controls requires for the control authorities to establish an appropriate procedure for ensuring the right of an operator to obtain samples for a second expert opinion in connection with official controls. A sample handed over to an operator in connection with official sampling is referred to as a counter sample. Customs applies the counter sample procedure in controls of foodstuffs that include controls of food contact materials.
The operator is responsible for the proper storage and analysis of the counter sample at his/her own expense. As a rule, the samplers of Finnish Customs hand over the counter sample to the possession of the operator in connection with the sampling, but in some cases the counter sample cannot be provided until a foodstuff sample that has been homogenized in a laboratory is available. Such cases may occur for example when samples are taken for the control of genetically modified ingredients and for determination of certain contaminants (such as mycotoxins). Therefore, it is important that the operator states that he/she wants to obtain a counter sample well in advance before the control sample is taken. This must be arranged in cooperation with the supervising customs office. The supervising customs office prepares for the sampling e.g. by obtaining a sufficient amount of sampling kits.
If a counter sample is taken, this will be noted in the sampling report. The goods holder also receives a copy of the report. The counter sample is sealed, and if the counter sample is analysed in a research laboratory, the seal number must be entered in the analysis report.
If the analysis results of the counter sample are to be sent to Customs for information, the operator must inform the product safety unit of any pending examinations during the hearing period, which is seven days calculated from the date of the advance notification. The hearing period can be extended if necessary, in order for possible examination results of the counter sample to be available when making the final assessment. The significance of the analysis results of counter samples is evaluated individually, taking e.g. the reliability of the research laboratory and the examination method used into consideration.
Examination of the counter sample does not influence the duty of the competent authority to take quick measures in order to remove or reduce health risks caused by foodstuffs.
Laboratory examinations initiated by the customs authorities are subject to charge (Decree of the Ministry of Finance on Chargeable Performances Provided by Finnish Customs 1280/2018).
Goods under the scope of the Food Act
- 458 euros/lot, when 1–3 samples are examined
- 553 euros/lot, when 4 samples or more
- 250 euros/lot, when the value of the import consignment is no higher than 1 500 euros
- 207 euros/lot in the case of re-examination after improvement measures (when the value of the import consignment exceeds 1 500 euros)
Goods under the scope of the Consumer Safety Act
- 371 euros/lot, when 1–3 samples are examined
- 458 euros/lot, when 4 samples or more are examined
- 200 euros/lot, when the value of the import consignment is no higher than 1 500 euros
- 294 euros/lot in the case of re-examination after improvement measures (when the value of the import consignment exceeds 1 500 euros)
Goods under the scope of the Act on Control of Organic Production
- 328 euros/lot, when 1 sample is examined
- 440 euros/lot, when 2 samples or more are examined
- 250 euros/lot, when the value of the import consignment is no higher than 1 500 euros
- 510 euros/lot, when the import consignment consists of organic feed
The official control of foodstuffs and materials that come into contact with foodstuffs is based on an EU control regulation 882/2004, which provides that the functionality and effectiveness of controls are to be audited regularly. Internal and external audits are carried out for verifying if controls are working flawlessly and in accordance with the plans.
Customs has an audit organisation with representatives from various Customs units. The audits apply to both the control of foodstuffs and, where applicable, to the control of consumer goods. Finnish Food Authority coordinates the auditing of the control of foodstuffs at a national level.
Changes in the import of foodstuffs 14 December 2019: