There are three levels of check carried out - documentary, identity and physical.
In the documentary check, the health certificates and any accompanying laboratory test results are checked for authenticity and cross-matched with the details of the commercial documents to ensure that they relate to the consignment.
The identity check involves the inspection of the consignment, checking the container seals and often the packaging of the goods to ensure that the goods match the information on the certification. Labelling and health marking will also be checked.
The physical inspection of the goods involves the inspection of the product. The packaging will be opened and the product examined to ensure that it is safe to eat and that it is the same product as certified. Where appropriate, the inspector will make an organoleptic (sight, smell, taste) assessment of the product. Samples may also be taken for laboratory assessment.
All consignments of controlled goods are subject to at least a documentary check. Other inspections will be applied randomly in accordance with the inspection quotas set out in European (EU) legislation.
The frequency of physical checks for products of animal origin (POAO) is:
20 per cent for meat and fish
50 per cent for poultry meat, honey and dairy products
1-10 per cent for inedible POAO, such as hay
The frequency of physical checks for food not of animal origin (FNAO) is:
100 per cent of Brazil nuts from Brazil and pistachios from Iran
10 per cent of peanuts from China
20 per cent of peanuts from Egypt
5-10 per cent of figs, hazelnuts and pistachios from Turkey
If you're importing food from either Canada or New Zealand note that reduced levels of checks apply due to the Equivalence Agreement (based on the high safety records of these countries).
The frequency of identity and physical checks on certain other high-risk feed and food of non-animal origin under Regulation (EC) 669/2009 can be found in Annex I of that Regulation.
Port health authorities may take formal samples of high-risk food products. This may be required by the control legislation or as a result of a risk assessment carried out in respect of the product. If your consignment is formally sampled it'll be detained while a public analyst or microbiologist carries out an inspection to check prescribed hygiene standards are met.
Changes to checking frequencies
If a consignment of POAO fails inspection, staff are required to increase checks of similar products from the exporting country.
Additional checks on imports may be carried out in accordance with a national monitoring scheme such as the veterinary medicine residues monitoring programme or a local sampling programme. Your local port health authority should be able to advise you of any schemes that exist.
Increased rates of checking may also apply because of new information sent via the EU Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF).