Food safety is an issue that should be foremost in the minds of everyone involved in the supply of fresh food products. Following highly publicised foodborne illnesses worldwide, in this issue we focus on food safety with news of electrifying new technology for sanitising fresh produce; rapid infrared analysis, which could streamline food processing tests in the production line; and a commercial grower’s experience conducting a fresh food recall.
According to the World Health Organisation, one in 10 people fall ill every year from eating contaminated food. Of these, 420,000 people die annually, including 125,000 children under the age of five years. Although foodborne illness and deaths are highest in low- and middle-income countries, they also occur in high-income countries. Currently, an Hepatitis-A outbreak in Hawaii has caused 93 illnesses with the food source still a mystery.
In Australia, the Federal Department of Health identified nearly 16 million illnesses of foodborne origin between 2000-2010 (the most recent data), resulting in 86 deaths. According to Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), the governmental body responsible for developing food standards for Australia and New Zealand, there were 189 recalls attributed to microbiological food contamination from 2006-2015. A recall refers to removing food that may pose a health or safety risk from distribution, sale and consumption. The most notable recall was imported frozen berries in mid-2015 that caused 28 Hepatitis-A illnesses.
In 2016 to date, there have been 41 food recalls. The most publicised was pre-packaged salad leaves in February due to microbial (salmonella) contamination that infected 28 people, including at least one child. Less publicised was microbial contamination of bean sprouts in South Australia in April–May with 271 cases of confirmed Salmonella Saintpaul, resulting in 47 people being admitted to hospital.
Fresh food contamination is a financial and reputational risk for any grower, especially if someone becomes ill and you don’t do anything about it. In this issue we follow the experience of a New Zealand herb producer who conducted a recall on a batch of fresh herbs following an indication of listeria. Fortunately, follow-up lab tests proved negative. Because the company acted swiftly, before the follow-up test results were known, the grower’s brand and reputation were undamaged.
If there is one thing this story reinforces, it is the need for growers to have a recall plan in the event of produce contamination, albeit microbial, chemical, biotoxin or foreign matter. The FSANZ website (www.foodstandards.gov.au) provides information on recalling food in Australia and guidance for food businesses on developing a written food recall plan—the website has a template to help businesses plan for the effective recall of unsafe food products from the food supply chain. The website also includes a video on how to conduct a recall. For recall requirements in New Zealand and guidance material, contact the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (www.foodsafety.govt.nz).
To borrow from Benjamin Franklin: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
PH&G August 2016 / Issue 170