Food Safety & Risk Analysis Update

12th December 2023

Food Safety & Risk Analysis Update

Welcome to our end of year food safety update.

This edition discusses the upcoming review of the United Fresh Produce Industry Food Safety and Traceability Framework (the Framework). We examine the increasing importance of this Framework, to ensure the effective coordination of the fresh produce supply chain food safety initiatives.

Where it started

The United Fresh Technical Advisory Group (UF TAG) was formed in response to two major potential foodborne illness watershed events in 2013-2014. These were the Yersinia Pseudotuberculosis outbreak (2014), and the Fonterra whey protein botulism false positive (2013). Regulators were increasingly concerned with NZ’s international image, as well as the impacts on export earnings, consumer perceptions, and potential best practice gaps.

The first major task for the United Fresh TAG group was to review traceability practices for the NZ fresh produce industry. In addition, the Framework for fresh produce was developed and released by United Fresh.

What has been done since

Between 2015 and 2022, some major activities were undertaken to support the framework. These were:

2018-2020 Sustainable Farming Fund Traceability Project, the traceability review identified issues with interoperability of systems throughout the supply chain. This is still a problem.

2020-2021 New Zealand Food Safety Science Research Centre (NZFSSRC) Food Borne Illness Risk Ranking Project which identified the most significant risk crops (beansprouts, berries, rock melons and leafy greens). Water, workers, and waste were the overarching themes of how produce is contaminated. Opportunities for better industry coordination were identified, as were industry experts dedicated to ensuring safe food is produced.

Anne-Marie Arts our United Fresh Food Safety Representative has chaired the NZFSSRC Horticulture Advisory Group for several years. The objective is to work on achieving greater coordination across the produce supply chain for food safety activities, and championing the Risk Ranking outcomes as the road map of what the industry needs to work on.

Now in 2023

With the devastating climate events experienced in NZ earlier in 2023, United Fresh supported the Food Safety Implications 2023 Flooded Land Project, which is currently underway. These weather events underlined several issues relevant to our industry. ESR is reviewing and testing stored soil samples taken after the flooding. The aim is to have a food safety component to any guidelines being developed for growers.

Fresh produce food borne illness challenges are diverse, with differing risk profiles. This poses challenges for regulators.

Meanwhile, a lack of coordination between supply chain participants is slowing industry attempts to reduce food safety risks, as is the attitude of much of the industry seeing food safety as another compliance exercise imposed upon them.

And looking towards 2024

United Fresh are continuing to act as an industry food safety advocate, and support sharing of knowledge in the industry.

We are committing to the development of microbial testing and management guidelines.

We are preparing for release an updated draft of the Framework, which will be reviewed in early 2024, with the intention of releasing the final Framework in late 2024.

If you would like to know more on the topics in this newsletter, please contact our Technical Advisory Group by emailing or calling 0800 507 555.