The International Fresh Produce Association Australia and New Zealand (IFPA A-NZ) has demonstrated its commitment to improving food safety across the entire supply chain at its second annual Food Safety Summit in Melbourne.
The event focused primarily on the global food safety landscape, with an emphasis on recent changes in production and processing standards for key products like berries, melons and leafy vegetables. Delegates were also given further clarity regarding the amendments made to the Food Standards Code in 2022, which have expanded regulator responsibilities to include the horticulture sector.
Clarifying Regulatory Confusion
Deon Mahoney, Head of Food Safety at IFPA A-NZ, addressed the confusion surrounding the new production and processing standards for berry, melon and leafy vegetable suppliers, which are due to be implemented in February 2025.
“The fresh produce industry currently works with voluntary standards set by supermarkets and food service customers, and there have been no previous standards for these sectors,” he said.
“The regulations are not that onerous,” continued Mahoney. “The general view is that if producers are already meeting stringent supermarket standards, they will meet the new regulations.”
Mahoney also outlined the urgent need for the industry to replace voluntary standards with formalised regulations, suggesting that regulators should begin registering growers and packers at the earliest opportunity to ensure a smooth transition.
International Perspectives and Compliance
The summit provided an international perspective on various matters, too. Natalie Dyenson, the US-based IFPA Chief Food Safety and Regulatory Officer, assured attendees that Australia and New Zealand are aligned with global safety standards.
“Regulators can move things forward when growers and packers are engaged,” she said. “From an international standpoint, other developed countries have had these regulations in place for decades. Australia is catching up.”
The Impact of Food-borne Illnesses
While discussing the severity of food-borne illnesses in Australia, Mahoney pointed out the extensive impact these have on the healthcare system, emphasising the industry's responsibility to safeguard consumers at every step of the supply chain.
“There are 4.86 million cases of food-borne illnesses in Australia each year, which has a pretty staggering $2.8 billion (AUD) burden on the medical system. Life-limiting illnesses can be caused by Salmonella, Listeria, Campylobacter and E. coli. The industry needs to do all it can to protect consumers,” he said.
“Australians generally trust the food supply chain. However, they also have long memories, and an outbreak can affect their perception of a fresh produce line well after the issue has been rectified.”
Looking ahead, Dyenson and Mahoney both agreed that climate change, labour shortages, rising transportation costs and inadequate water supply are all pressure points that are likely to contribute to food-borne illness outbreaks in the future. Mahoney went on to suggest that suppliers will find it challenging to balance sustainability and food safety effectively.
A full report summarising the outcomes of this latest summit will be published by IFPA A-NZ in the coming months ahead of the next event, which is set to take place towards the end of the year.
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