Welcome to our bi-monthly Food Safety Update. We aim to provide you with a snapshot of information on topical and relevant food safety issues and, where, applicable, the links to allow you to take your knowledge further.
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This edition discusses food safety aspects related to fresh berryfruit, melons and leafy vegetables.
Berryfruit have been in the news recently again, and both times from a Food Safety perspective. The first article in this group focuses on frozen berries. The second article provides an update on a Food Standards Australia New Zealand “high risk crops” review that concerns berryfruit, as well as melons and leafy vegetables.
US FDA Sampling Frozen Berries for harmful Viruses
Berryfruit are rapidly expanding in volume and consumption, with blueberries being marketed as a superfood. However, berryfruit presents foodborne illness risks due to the production, harvesting and consumption methods associated with these crops.
Strawberries, raspberries and blackberries may become contaminated with bacteria or viruses if handled by an infected worker who does not use appropriate hand hygiene, or if exposed to contaminated agricultural water or a contaminated surface, such as a harvesting container. Freezing preserves berries but generally does not kill viruses, which can survive at low temperatures.
Frozen berries are used as ingredients in a wide range of foods such as prepared yoghurts and muesli bars. They are also used raw in fruit salads or smoothies and have been associated with outbreaks of foodborne illness. In New Zealand, a frozen berry product recall was initiated in 2015. Imported berries from China were recalled after being linked with 4 cases of Hepatitis A in Australia. In the USA, the FDA has reported three Hepatitis A virus outbreaks and one Norovirus outbreak linked to frozen berries from 1997 to 2016.
In December 2015, MPI initiated a surveillance and testing programme for imported frozen berries. This followed the recall of specific batches of imported frozen berries that were linked to a handful of human cases of Hepatitis A.
A US FDA frozen berry fruit sampling programme began in November 2018 and is estimated to last approximately 18 months. The programme plans to collect a total of 2,000 samples of frozen strawberries, raspberries and blackberries in retail packaging.
As of September 30, 2019, the FDA has tested a total of 812 frozen berry samples (339 domestic and 473 imported). Of the frozen berries sampled, the FDA found genetic material from Hepatitis A virus in five samples and genetic material from Norovirus in eight samples. When the FDA detected genetic material from Hepatitis A virus or Norovirus in a sample, the agency notified the producer of the finding(s) and worked with them to take appropriate action to protect the public health. Testing for all pathogens is still underway and no conclusions can be drawn at this time.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) Review of High-Risk Horticultural Crops
FSANZ is undertaking a review of primary production and processing requirements for high risk horticultural crops from a foodborne illness perspective. The focus of the review has been upon melons, berryfruit and leafy vegetables such as lettuce. It excludes minimally processed produce and sprouted seeds (bean sprouts).
The review is not directly applicable to New Zealand where fresh produce is already regulated under the New Zealand Food Act 2014. However, the main findings of the review are equally applicable to New Zealand production.
The key findings include:
Significantly the most common cause of product contamination identified was the use of poor-quality water for pre-harvest activities and post-harvest processing.
There are some key issues coming out of the review that we need to consider in New Zealand:
We will be monitoring how this review is being followed up and will inform you of the implications from a New Zealand fresh produce supply perspective. A more detailed analysis will be prepared for circulation. This will also discuss initiatives underway in New Zealand.
The full review documents are available: https://www.foodstandards.gov.au/code/proposals/Pages/P1052.aspx?mc_cid=67176b823c&mc_eid=0a8389176e