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Selling food supplements on line and monitoring consumers safety

The opinion that food supplements can contribute to the people wellness when combined with a healthy and varied life style is becoming more consolidated in consumers. The demand of health products, including food supplements, by consumers is growing. The online sale of food products is increasing as well as the alert by the Authorities monitoring their safety.

In this landscape, food companies should be well informed on how to sell supplements on line and on the appropriate information intended for consumers.

In Italy, a food supplement can be sold only after it has been notified to the Ministry of Health by the Food Business Operator (FBO) that is responsible of its safety. If the supplement is manufactured in an extra-EU country, the sale is permitted only after 90 days from the date of the notification submission to the Ministry of Health. After such notification, the sale in Italy is also allowed through company websites and/or e-commerce online platforms.

Any nutrition and health indication associated to the nutrition substances contained in a food supplement is approved by European regulations. For other substances for which no harmonised decision has been adopted on the relevant claims at European level, local norms still apply.

In Italy, for botanicals, in the transition period, it is still possible to refer to the physiologic effects reported in the Decree including the list of plants admitted in food supplements. Companies must, therefore, comply with the requirements of the regulations on claims and labelling, avoiding any information misleading consumers and ensuring a clear communication on the intended use of a supplement. This can’t – in no way – help in treating a disease; on the contrary it can support the usual diet in order to maintain the good health of people.

Last year, the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) commissioned a Eurobarometer study in all EU Member States (including United Kingdom), and this year has also yielded results for 5 pre-adhesion countries (Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Turkey), that showed the same interest of all States regarding food safety, risk awareness, as well as trust in the various sources of information.

The Italian Ministry of Health, along with the Italian task force against counterfeiting (NAS), carries out control at any stage of manufacturing, transformation, distribution, storage, transport, marketing and serving food and drinks as well as food additives, and publishes official documents reporting the control schedule performed in the previous year.

Many safety alerts on food products and supplements are published daily on the website of the Ministry of Health to increase the dissemination of vigilance information.

To protect consumers, a handbook was published including advice on the conscious and informed use of food supplements, on their function and on the relevance of their effects: 10 advices, including a recommendation to always read all information reported in the information leaflets, and to discontinue the intake of supplements in case effects are noted other than those expected, promptly informing one’s doctor or pharmacist, and reporting the event to phytovigilance system coordinated by the High Institute of Health (VigiErbe).

The responsibility of a food supplement safety falls in any case on the FBO that places a product on the market of a Member State according to a specific procedure applied locally and therefore it is required that this operator provides for a vigilance system and communicates any risk associated to the product to the competent health authorities as soon as possible, adopting procedures for the withdrawal and/or recall of the product from the market.

The requirements regarding the sale of food supplements in each Member State can be found out with the support of consulting companies with experience in the food sector, that can also provide companies with the help required to set up an in-house vigilance system to manage reports on food supplements.

Written By: Giorgia Martini