Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) recently released the results of a comprehensive survey concerning patulin levels in apple juice and other apple products.
This survey was conducted in response to a recall of several apple juice products in 2020 due to high patulin levels. The goal was to assess whether patulin concentrations in these products posed a risk to public health.
Before exploring the results, let’s first explain what patulin is and why it matters.
What is Patulin?
Patulin is a naturally occurring toxin produced by moulds commonly found in fruits, vegetables and cereals. Apples are particularly susceptible to contamination.
The likelihood of contamination depends on various factors, such as fruit conditions during harvest and handling/storage conditions. Although Australia does not have specific maximum limits for patulin, it is recommended that levels be kept as low as reasonably achievable to ensure food safety.
The FSANZ survey involved the purchase and analysis of almost 300 apple juice and apple product samples from all states and territories in 2021 and 2022. These samples included various apple juice varieties, apple puree, apple sauce, canned apples and dried apples.
Notably, patulin concentrations varied between products and over time, particularly in some types of apple juice.
Low Dietary Exposure to Patulin
A critical outcome of the survey was the assessment of dietary exposure to patulin based on the collected data and typical consumption patterns among Australians.
The results indicated that the estimated dietary exposure to patulin was low. FSANZ researchers emphasised that they found no food safety concerns related to patulin concentrations in the surveyed products. This led to the conclusion that there was no need to introduce regulatory measures.
Comparison with Codex Standards
The Codex Alimentarius Commission has established a maximum level of 50 micrograms per kilogram for patulin in apple juice. Several national food regulators have adopted this standard.
Impressively, the patulin levels of almost 90 per cent of the apple juice products tested in the FSANZ survey were below this limit. However, it's essential to note that the results also revealed considerable variability, with some samples containing patulin concentrations as high as 532 micrograms per kilogram. These deviations have raised concerns about the potential for future patulin contamination in apple juice.
Recommendations and Industry Practices
In response to these findings, FSANZ issued recommendations to maintain the safety of apple juice products. These recommendations include implementing rigorous industry quality control practices and adhering to good agricultural and manufacturing practices.
Furthermore, FSANZ urged continued monitoring and assessment of apple juice products with the potential for higher patulin levels to mitigate contamination risks.
To summarise, the FSANZ patulin survey conducted on apple juice and apple products revealed that the majority of samples had low patulin concentrations, posing no immediate food safety concerns.
However, the variability in patulin levels highlighted the potential for future contamination. As a result, FSANZ recommends that the food industry adhere to stringent quality control practices and continuous monitoring to mitigate these risks.
This survey exemplifies the commitment of food safety authorities to safeguard public health by conducting thorough assessments of food products.
Metal Contaminant Survey
In addition to the patulin survey, FSANZ is currently finalising a comprehensive assessment of metal contaminants (such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury and tin) in apple juice and other apple products. The results of this survey are expected to be published in the next few months, providing further insights into the safety of these products.
FSANZ Food Safety Regulations
Beyond the survey results, FSANZ recently introduced revised rules for businesses involved in preparing, handling and serving unpackaged, ready-to-eat foods requiring temperature control.
FSANZ Standard 3.2.2A aims to enhance food safety across various industries such as Retail, Hospitality, Health & Community, Transport & Distribution and Food Processing. Key requirements include appointing certified Food Safety Supervisors, ensuring Food Handlers possess sufficient skills, and maintaining accurate food safety records.
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