Gizela Malkoć baked cakes in the old Sarajevo company ‘Slastičar’ for a living, and today she won’t eat a cake bought in any Sarajevo sweet shop.
She worries about hygiene in the shops. She worries about flour products in private bakeries, and bread, too. ‘They handle money and hand me the bread with the same hands’ she says.
Where, Malkoč wonders, are the inspectors who should be doing regular quality control? What are they doing?
In August, the Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo (CIN) found as part of an investigation of food safety in Bosnia and Herzegovina that authorities don’t do enough to protect citizens, often because of confusion over responsibilities and the duplication of services of different inspection offices.
Market and sanitary inspections of bakeries and cake shops are insufficient and superficial, according to inspectors themselves. Mostly, consumers must rely on inspections bread and flour manufacturers do themselves for proof that shops are clean and food products safe.
In Banja Luka, city inspectors have not sampled flour and wheat for three years.
In Bijeljina, sanitary inspector Rada Gradašević, said: ‘Today you cannot be absolutely sure of the safety of food that we buy and eat. There is too little money for frequent sampling or in-depth analysis.’
‘Producers and retailers are left to sample flour themselves. The last check of flour and wheat we did in 2004. Everything is left to chance’ said Gradašević.
Left to do flour and pastry control on their own, manufacturers and processors frequently pay only for the cheapest kind of analysis, she said. Microbiological, chemical and other analyses for the presence of heavy metals in flour are rarely done, according to employees of the Institute for Public Health in both entities. Testing for micotoxins is also neglected.
Bakery owners will pay about 10 KM to have samples tested for ash, but avoid more costly tests to insure that their products are free of worse contaminants and bacteria.
Zoran Brkić, director of the Bijeljina Agricultural Institute, says simply that, ‘BiH has become a European rubbish bin for food. Goods of dubious quality are imported.’
Too few samples tested
So far, however, proof of contaminated bread is more a threat because of lack of quality control than a reality.
Bogoljub Antonić, the head of the Department for Analysis at the Republika Srpska Public Health Institute, said inspectors and manufacturers have tested 40 samples in the last year, none of them for heavy metal.
Based on such small number, he said, he cannot meaningfully answer questions about how healthy and hygienic the bread we eat is.
‘After 36 years of work, I can’t answer that question’ he said. ‘Nobody can give me an answer to that question, including inspectors.’
Similarly, over the past two years, experts from the Federation Institute for Public Health from Mostar and Sarajevo have analyzed 184 samples of flour and pastry, dough for rolls and cakes, at the request of sanitary inspectors and food factories. Only two cakes were found to contain dangerous levels of bacteria including staphylococci, E.coli and proteus.
‘This is a small number of samples for a two-year period. Based on it, it can’t be said with certainty that flour and pastry are good’ said Slađana Šarac, head of the Institute’s Service for Hygiene and Health Ecology.
Last month, CIN reporters, with cooperation from the federation Public Health Institute, had samples from five bakeries analyzed. They were sent to three labs and all found that the products were bacteria-free. The owner of one private bakery refused to allow Institute technicians to take a sample for study, saying they did their own monthly testing.
Institute Director Zlatko Vučina said that despite those optimistic results, he remains concerned that flour and bread are not tested enough for the presence of heavy metals. He doesn’t buy bread, he said. His wife makes it at home.
In 2005, sanitary inspectors in Sarajevo Canton found micotoxins, known to cause cancer, in the flour distributed to Sarajevo shops by 10 flour manufacturers.
‘All quantities of flour were seized. We submitted reports against the responsible individuals’ says Osman Kapetanović, head of sanitary inspection in the canton.
What is safe?
Bosnia and Herzegovina still relies on rules that date to the former Yugoslavia on what constitutes good-quality grain, flour, bread and pastry. Last year the firm Žitozajednica BiH offered a revised and updated book on flour quality to the BiH Council of Ministers. It matched the up-to-date rules now followed in Croatia and Slovenia, countries where a thriving black market in flour has been suppressed.
The ministers never accepted the new rules.
Halil Mešan, director of Žitozajednice said, ‘Additives should not be used without agreement by authorized institutions as to which can be used and in what amounts. It should be stated on the label of particular bread that it contains such and such.’
Adil Ligata, former director of the Sarajevo bread factory Sprind who now works for Klas, said the bread eaten in Sarajevo varies widely in quality. There are some 100 bread manufacturers in the city, they are of varying expertise and work under different conditions.
Ligata said the state and inspectors should be trying to decrease those differences.
In contrast with small, private mills, pre-war giants like Klas Sarajevo, Žitopromet Mostar and Mlinpek Bugojno do their own standardized quality control through government labs. However, independent review of these major millers is lacking.
‘We in Bosnia have no organized control of flour. Like everything else, this area is unregulated’ said Sead Džipa, president of the steering board of the Association of Bakery Entrepreneurs in FBiH. In addition, he said, the country’s borders are porous.
A July report on sanitary monitoring in Sarajevo Canton said bread and pastry manufacturers buy small quantities of good flour from reliable manufacturers, but base their production on unchecked imported materials. The report did not identify any companies.
Inspectors note that BiH imports most of its seeds, grain and grain products from neighboring Serbia.
Responsibility for seeing that these imports are uncontaminated is divided. Phyto-sanitary, sanitary and market inspectors for each entity are all charged with this task, but they don’t coordinate or communicate with each other.
In the RS, for example, inspectors at the border crossing in Rača look for diseases in imported flour, grain and seeds. Without their certificate, imported goods can’t be put on the market. At least in the RS. They don’t talk with colleagues in the Federation.
RS phyto-sanitary inspector Ljiljana Poljić said market inspectors are responsible for overseeing the quality of imported flour and food. ‘We are interested in diseases and pests’ she said.
But, she said, inspectors cannot sample everything.
When trucks of flour come to border, inspectors run a sample through a sieve looking for cockroaches and other bugs. A sample of the shipment is then supposed to be sent in for a full lab analysis. In practice that is difficult because there is no place to store goods during the time the tests are being done.
‘Where can I unload 20 trucks of goods? There is no terminal. Goods should be stored in a terminal from seven to 15 days. Because of the inability to hold the goods, I issue the ban on sending it into market’ said Poljić.
‘There is no cooperation between entity inspections. We don’t know what’s going on with the goods that go through Rača and into FBiH.’ The same thing happens with goods that come in from the Federation, he said.
Poljić claims that because of conditions inspectors must work under and because of lack of cooperation between entity inspections, biting into a slice of bread can be a bit of a risk.
‘I am surprised there are no daily poisonings’ says Poljić.