Why packaging processes are the essential ingredient for food safety

The Australian food and beverage market is one of the country’s major industries, with an annual revenue of $2.1 billion. It is populated by a variety of iconic and enduring brands. In such a crowded market, it can be difficult for smaller businesses to stand out. But with the right tools and processes in place, even the smallest businesses can compete on a level-playing field with larger operators.

Packaging is one of the crucial ways that businesses can build their brand and differentiate themselves from their competition. With strong links between visual presentation and positive memories, it’s an essential piece of a brand’s identity. Iconic Australian brands like Vegemite, Arnott’s and Cadbury can be instantly recognised by their packaging, and it has a direct impact on the perception of their brand.

But packaging is more than just a “pretty face” – it has an important role in protecting the health and safety of customers. This was made clear in last year’s strawberry tampering scandal, when Food Standards Australia New Zealand’s (FSANZ) report into needle contamination suggested that more effective, tamper-proof packaging could be one way to prevent future incidents. Similarly, with the debate over single-use plastics and resource wastage growing stronger by the day, packaging can also signify a company’s commitment to sustainability.

In the wake of food issues like strawberry tampering and combined with increasing competition and a focus on sustainability, having streamlined, consistent and high-quality packaging processes during manufacturing is now more important than ever. A high standard of packaging not only attracts new customers to a brand, it can also save costs, protect customer safety, and maximise business resources.

The importance of safe packaging
The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code lays out a series of standards that food businesses must maintain, including an active commitment to reducing the risk of food contamination and protecting the health of consumers. The code outlines that packaging must be durable, of a high quality, not leach chemicals or allow harmful microorganisms to become mixed with the food, among other requirements. Contamination remains a core risk of packaging processes and can be caused by poor manufacturing conditions or inconsistent cleaning and sanitising processes.

When managing food processes, consistency is key. Quality packaging is costly to manufacture, so it’s equally important to use it efficiently and effectively. This requires constant monitoring, skilled workers, and equipment that’s up to the task. But maintaining high quality standards doesn’t just mean being “compliant” to current legislation – it requires an active commitment to constantly improving manufacturing processes.

Reducing risks
One simple fact of food manufacturing is that the presence of human workers on the production line carries the risk of contamination, from various bodily fluids to the growth of harmful bacteria in manufacturing environments. In the first two months of 2019, there have been nine food recall reports from FSANZ, including a variety of dairy product recalls due to the presence of E. coli bacteria, as well as a beer nut recall due to the presence of glass fragments. These incidents, which have potential to cause illness or harm, were likely the result of inefficient manufacturing processes or human error.

When taking on dull and repetitive tasks in the workplace, fatigue can lead to mistakes. In the food and beverages industry, these mistakes can be harmful, but actively improving production processes and introducing new technologies can prevent them.

Investing in technology and automation is one obvious solution: not only to reduce risk, but also to improve productivity. Since being installed in manufacturing plants in the 1970s, robots have evolved to take on increasingly complex tasks. Now, the latest robotic technology can take on smaller scale and more intricate work, and handle more delicate products, such as eggs and fruit.

Collaborating for better packaging processes
In particular, collaborative robots (cobots) are a growing technology that the food and beverage industry has an opportunity to adopt to reduce the risk of contamination and maintain high levels of product consistency. With their small size, flexible and adaptive setup, and ability to work in close-proximity with people, cobots can be used across food and beverage production facilities, from picking and placing to packing or palletising.

This process often takes place in a “clean room”, where products can be manufactured in a controlled environment to reduce the risk of pathogen transference. Cobots working to produce items such as dairy and juice can create longer-lasting products, as well as ensure consistent output.

By integrating cobots into the production line, a company can reduce the risk of cross-contamination across a plant. Additionally, automating repetitive tasks not only increases consistency and productivity but it also frees up employees to take up more interesting and engaging tasks. Reallocating these tasks creates new opportunities for workers to learn valuable, transferable skills such as programming, keeping them more engaged and alert while working on the production line.

The food and beverage industry has a long history of adapting to changing taste, trends, and technology. Introducing automation technology like cobots to the workplace has the potential to improve overall safety, reduce waste, and improve productivity. It is important the industry does not wait for another safety scandal to act: it’s time to get on the front foot and ensure the sector’s efficiency, growth and success for years to come.

Hindus urge gelatin source be listed

The Hindu community is urging the Australian Government and Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) to mandate that food manufacturers state the source of gelatin, if used in a product. Read more

FSANZ approves hemp products as food

Food regulator, Food Standard Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) has approved low-THC hemp seed products to be used as a food.

THC is the psychoactive component of cannabis and the consumption of the products therefore does not result in the psychological effects associated with high-THC cannabis.

However, as the ABC reports, the regulator’s approval does not mean that the sale of the products can now begin. First, state and territory governments must give their approval.

Supporters of the change are hopeful that approval will be at a meeting of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in April.

The Tasmanian Farmers & Graziers Association (TFGA) CEO Peter Skillern is one such supporter.

“We’ve been arguing this decision was necessary to ensure the ongoing sustainability of the hemp industry in Tasmania. It’s a giant step forward,” Skillern told The Advocate.

According to Hemp Foods Australia, the international market for hemp foods is currently around $1 billion annually. That organisation’s CEO Paul Benhaim said the demand for Australian hemp foods will quadruple in the next few years.

“This is another positive step in the years long work and investment in achieving legalisation for omega-3 rich hemp as a food in Australia,” he said.

“It will also contribute significantly toward more sustainable farming in Australia, with the added bonus of creating considerable job opportunities for Australia’s farming industry.”

FSANZ responds to egg safety claims

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has released a statement refuting an article published in The Sydney Morning Herald which claimed that supermarkets are the ‘missing link’ in egg-related Salmonella protection.

The FSANZ statement says there is no food safety reason to require whole eggs to be refrigerated at retail; however, retailers may choose to refrigerate eggs for their own reasons (for example, to maintain quality of the egg such as firmness of the yolk or reduce spoilage).

FSANZ further advises it undertook a thorough risk assessment of egg production and processing in Australia in 2011, involving consultation with industry, scientists, government agencies and the public, with the assistance of international and domestic experts. The assessments covered the entire supply chain, including factors on-farm that increase the likelihood of Salmonella contamination, through grading, washing, packing, retail storage and consumer preparation.

The FSANZ statement declares that whole uncracked eggs aren’t required to be refrigerated at retail because:

  • Unlike many other countries (eg, the US and UK), the types of Salmonella that can contaminate the inside of eggs as they are formed in the bird are not present in Australian laying flocks;
  • Contamination of the surface of the egg with Salmonella can occur as it is laid, or via contamination from the farm environment. There are requirements in the Food Standards Code for egg producers to control this hazard, eg, minimising the contamination of feed with Salmonella so it is not introduced to the laying flock;
  • Salmonella must first cross the physical barriers of the shell and membranes, and tolerate the hostile conditions of the egg white before it can enter the yolk and grow;
  • The temperature along the whole supply chain affects the rate at which the protective membranes within the egg degrade. The time eggs spend on the retail shelf is often short compared with the time between the being laid through to consumption (ie, entire shelf life). Due to the nature of egg contamination in Australia, refrigeration of eggs at retail is considered to have a small impact on the overall risk of illness;
  • Evidence shows that food poisoning outbreaks associated with eggs in Australia have been mostly due to uncooked or lightly cooked foods containing contaminated raw egg, such as sauces and desserts. Factors that may have contributed to outbreaks included cross-contamination during food preparation (i.e., transfer of Salmonella from the surface of the egg to other surfaces and/or foods) and storage of the food containing raw egg at temperatures that would permit growth of Salmonella.

FSANZ recommends the following tips for consumers to minimise the risk of food poisoning:

  • Dishes containing raw eggs as an ingredient, that aren’t going to be cooked before being eaten, should not be served to small children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems (as they are at greater risk from food poisoning). Egg meals should be cooked for these vulnerable people until the yolk in a boiled egg has started to become firm or eggs have become set in omelettes or scrambled eggs.
  • Check your eggs for visible cracks. If it is cracked, it is safest to discard it or cook thoroughly, for example in a baked cake.
  • If you accidentally drop pieces of shell into your egg mixture, it too could be contaminated and the mixture will need thorough cooking. Remove the shell pieces with a clean spoon or fork.
  • Wash your hands with soap and running water and dry thoroughly before handling any food including eggs and after handling eggs so you don’t contaminate other food.
  • If you are not going to cook the eggs further, don’t separate the yolk from the white using the shell as that could contaminate the raw egg. Invest in a plastic egg separator.
  • Prepare raw egg foods (such as mayonnaise or mousse containing raw eggs) just before you are going to eat them and refrigerate immediately at 5°C or below, so the bacteria cannot grow.

FSANZ said that to enhance the quality of eggs, consumers can keep eggs refrigerated in the cardboard box they are purchased in.

Food standards body close to finalising labelling review work

An independent review into food labelling has received hundreds of submissions and involved several rounds of consultation, including public meetings with the food industry.

Food Standards Australia & New Zealand (FSANZ) concluded that the dietary intakes of trans fats in Australia and New Zealand were likely to remain below World Health Organization limits and that mandatory labelling was not warranted.

Another review recommendation was that total and naturally occurring dietary fibre content should be shown on NIPs. FSANZ looked into this recommendation by reviewing the science on ‘naturally occurring’ dietary fibre.

Consumers were also asked how they understand dietary fibre content and estimated how much it would cost consumers and industry to have dietary fibre information on all foods.

New review standards were also introduced, as FSANZ was able to implement the ability to allow voluntary potassium claims to be made on food labels.

The review recommended that Australia’s existing mandatory country of origin labelling requirements for food be extended to cover all primary foods. FSANZ examined the requirements and extended country of origin labelling to unpackaged beef, veal, lamb, hogget, mutton and chicken in July 2013.

FSANZ also looked at the remaining primary produce that didn’t need to display country of origin information on the label, for example goat meat.

By the end of 2016, FSANZ expects to complete work on its final two recommendations.

These include expanding the ingredient list on food labels so that the terms ‘added sugars’, ‘added fats’ and/or ‘added vegetable oils’ are used followed by a bracketed list with the names in addition to reviewing the requirement that a food has been irradiated. 

Sale of raw apricot kernels now prohibited: FSANZ

The retail sale of raw apricot kernels is prohibited as from today, when changes to the Food Standards Code come into effect.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) Chief Executive Officer Steve McCutcheon said FSANZ has found that raw apricot kernels (both with and without skin) pose an acute public health and safety risk.

“Raw apricot kernels contain cyanogenic glycosides, which are broken down to release cyanide when eaten,” McCutcheon said.

“There have been a number of cases of cyanide poisoning related to consumption of apricot kernels, with some consumers eating them believing they can help cure or prevent cancer, although there is no credible evidence that is the case.”

The prohibition does not apply to apricot kernel-derived ingredients, which can be shown to be safe to use as ingredients in other foods.

In September 2015, the FSANZ Board approved a proposal to prohibit the sale of raw apricot kernels. In November 2015, Ministers responsible for food regulation agreed to adopt the changes, which will be gazetted today.

GM soybean safe: FSANZ

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) today called for submissions on an application to permit the sale and use of food from a genetically modified soybean line.

FSANZ Acting Chief Executive Officer Marion Healy said the soybean line had been genetically modified to be protected against lepidopteran pests, including key soybean pests, the bean shoot moth, sunflower looper and fall armyworm.

“FSANZ has assessed the application and determined there are no public health and safety concerns,” Healy said.

“Based on the data provided in the application, and other available information, food derived from this soybean line is considered to be as safe for human consumption as food derived from conventional soybean cultivars.”

All FSANZ decisions on standards are notified to ministers responsible for food regulation. The ministers can decide to adopt, amend, or reject standards or they can ask for a review.

The closing date for submissions is 6pm, 26 August 2015.

 

Ministers to reconsider legalising hemp for food

Australian and New Zealand government ministers will reconsider legalising hemp for food in the first quarter of 2016.

The Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation (the Forum) met in Hobart to discuss a number of food regulation matters.

Before the ban on low THC hemp food may be reconsidered, there are some “knowledge gaps” which the Forum has requested be addressed first.

The FRSC Working Group is addressing the knowledge gaps identified regarding roadside drug testing, cannabidiol levels, legal and treaty issues and concerns that the marketing of hemp in food may send a confused message to consumers about the acceptability and safety of cannabis.

In February, the Forum decided to maintain the ban on low THC hemp as food because of concerns that police drug testing would be compromised by the legalisation of the product.

The Forum has asked officials to progress this work as quickly as possible and has agreed to consider the report on the project outcomes in the first quarter of 2016.

Health Star Rating update

The ministers discussed the progress of the Health Star Rating roll out. The Forum tasked the Food Regulation Standing Committee (FRSC) to provide advice in relation to the clarity that is required on the HSR Terms of Reference to strengthen the governance. This will include advice regarding the process for consultation with and oversight by jurisdictions.

Nut- and seed-based beverages in the Health Star Rating system

The Forum considered a request to classify nut- and seed-based beverages as Category 1D dairy beverages’ for the purpose of the HSR system.

A majority of Forum members agreed that under the HSR system, nut- and seed-based beverages may be classified as Category 1D products, if they meet the calcium requirements for that category.

The Forum also agreed to seek further consideration by the FRSC, with advice from Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) on how dairy alternative beverages should be categorised within the HSR system, and how they should be treated under the relevant food standard. The Forum is also seeking further advice about reconciling recommendations received from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). This will also include the outcome of the current application that is under consideration by FSANZ.

Vitamin D in breakfast cereal

The Forum has asked FSANZ to review a draft standard to permit the voluntary addition of vitamin D to breakfast cereals, to ensure consistency with the ‘Ministerial Policy Guideline for the Fortification of Food with Vitamins and Minerals’. Permitting the addition of vitamin D to breakfast cereals of poorer nutritional quality (e.g., cereals high in fat, sugar or salt) is not consistent with this Policy Guideline. The Forum also agreed that the Policy Guideline will be clarified in conjunction with the FSANZ review.

Country of Origin Labelling

The Forum noted that there was broad community interest in improving the Country of Origin Labelling framework for Australian food. New Zealand didn’t participate in the discussion, as it plans to continue with its current voluntary Country of Origin Labelling scheme.

 

Gaps identified in nutrition and health claims standard

FSANZ has called for submissions on a proposal to address an inconsistency identified in the nutrition and health claims standard.

“The proposal addresses discrepancies between standards in the Food Standards Code and also ensures sodium claims about food containing more than 1.15% alcohol (e.g. soy sauce) can continue to be made,” FSANZ Chief Executive Officer Steve McCutcheon said.

The inconsistency regards the conditions for vitamin and mineral claims between Standards 1.2.7 and 1.3.2.

All FSANZ decisions on standards are notified to ministers responsible for food regulation. The ministers can decide to adopt, amend, or reject standards or they can ask for a review.

The closing date for submissions is 10 August 2015.

 

New sweetener on the cards

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has called for submissions on whether to permit a steviol glycoside, rebaudioside M (Reb M), as a new intense sweetener.

FSANZ Chief Executive Officer Steve McCutcheon said FSANZ had assessed an application to allow Reb M to be added to the same food categories and at the same maximum levels as the currently permitted steviol glycosides.

“Reb M is similar in chemical structure and sweetness intensity to other permitted steviol glycosides,” McCutcheon said.

“FSANZ’s safety assessment has concluded that there are no public health and safety issues associated with this Application.

“All FSANZ decisions on standards are notified to ministers responsible for food regulation. The ministers can decide to adopt, amend, or reject standards or they can ask for a review.”

The closing date for submissions is 10 August 2015

 

Genetically modified source of asparaginase safe: FSANZ

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) today called for submissions on a new microbial source for asparaginase sourced from a genetically modified strain of Bacillus subtilis.

FSANZ Chief Executive Officer Steve McCutcheon said FSANZ had assessed the Application to include the asparaginase preparation as a permitted processing aid.

“Asparaginase can be used to reduce the risk of acrylamide formation in food which can occur when certain starchy foods are cooked or processed,” McCutcheon said.

“Acrylamide formation occurs when certain foods are fried or roasted including potatoes, coffee, and cereal-based products.

“FSANZ has concluded that there are no public health and safety issues associated with using the enzyme preparation as a food processing aid.”

All FSANZ decisions on standards are notified to ministers responsible for food regulation. The ministers can decide to adopt, amend, or reject standards or they can ask for a review.

The closing date for submissions is Friday 31 July 2015.

 

FSANZ considers allowing food from a GM corn line

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has called for submissions on an application to allow food derived from a genetically modified corn line.

FSANZ Chief Executive Officer Steve McCutcheon said the corn line had been genetically modified to be tolerant to the herbicide glufosinate ammonium, and for protection against common corn pests.

“FSANZ has completed its safety assessment on this application and found there were no potential public health or safety concerns,” McCutcheon said.

“FSANZ has determined that food derived from this corn line is as safe for human consumption as food derived from conventional corn cultivars.”

FSANZ has also assessed an application to permit the voluntary fortification of breakfast cereals with Vitamin D.

The application, made by DSM Nutritional Products Australia was to permit a maximum of 2.5 µg per normal serving of breakfast cereals. FSANZ approved the draft variation on 20 May 2015 and the Australian and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation was notified of the decision on 1 June 2015.

All FSANZ decisions on standards are notified to ministers responsible for food regulation. The ministers can decide to adopt, amend, or reject standards or they can ask for a review.
 

7 steps to meet the new Health Claims Standard

Food manufacturers have just seven months left to get to grips with new food labelling laws regarding nutrition and health claims that can be made in Australia.

The Health Claims Standard in the Food Standards Code significantly expands the range of health, nutrition and related claims permitted on food labels and advertisements.

Organisations or individuals who don’t comply with the rules face stiff penalties. There are fines of up to $55,000 for an individual or up to $275,000 for a corporation which are found to be flouting the law.

Food businesses that wish to make health or nutrition claims on their food labels and in their advertising must comply with the Standard from 18 January 2016. There has been a three year voluntary transition period – but January will be crunch time when the Standard becomes mandatory.

The changes will require manufacturers and their marketing departments to carefully consider the claims they make on their food products and in their advertising.

The previous Standard only permitted health claims which stated that increased folate consumption in at least the month before and three months following conception may reduce the risk of foetal neural tube defects in relation to specific foods – this new Standard will open the door to a whole raft of new health and nutrition claims – subject to companies being able to meet criteria set out in the new Standard.

For example, companies that wish to make nutritional claims such as 'good source of calcium' will need to meet certain criteria set out in the Standard, and contain more than the amount of calcium specified in the Standard.

The changes will encourage food industry innovation – and provide more insight to consumers about the range of healthy food choices. At the same time the Standard should reduce the risk of misleading and deceptive claims about food.

When it comes to claims the new Food Standards Code distinguishes between general level health claims and high level health claims. To make any such claims companies will have to ensure they meet the strict criteria set out in the Standard.

So with seven months to go before the Standard becomes mandatory, what do businesses need to do now?

Analyse

Review the new Standard and determine whether your current packaging, advertising and marketing materials are compliant with the new rules regarding nutrition and health claims. Also determine whether there is merit in making additional claims under the new standard. There are more than 200 pre-approved food-health relationships in the new Standard, and 13 pre-approved high-level health claims which food companies could make use of if their products meet the defined criteria. Do packaging and promotional materials need to be replaced to comply with the new rules, or take advantage of the pre-approved claims criteria?

Assess

Assess whether it would make more sense to discard old stock and replace it with new, or recall products and repackage them, expiry dates permitting. This applies to both products made in Australia or those sourced from overseas. This will require careful assessment of both economics and logistics associated with each alternative.

Audit

Make sure you know who is distributing and stocking your products. Conduct an audit of stocks in hand – from 18 January next year all products in non-compliant packaging will need to be removed or repackaged, similarly advertising and marketing materials need to be brought into line with the new Standard.

Alert

Alert advertising and marketing agencies to the new Food Standard and remind them of their compliance obligations with regard to any packaging or marketing materials. Review agreements with agencies, and ensure they are updated with alerts – require agencies to confirm receipt of these alerts in writing to ensure a proper audit trail is maintained.

Ensure that the product claims and associated packaging and marketing materials also comply with other legislation such as the Competition and Consumer Act, the National Measurement Act and Country of Origin Labelling laws which are under review at time of publish.

Also send alerts to product suppliers, retailers and distributors reminding them of the need to remove all old, non-compliant stock by 17 January 2016. Ensure distributors in particular fully understand the changes to the regulation, and the penalties for non-compliance. Again request written confirmation of compliance.

Approve

If you are using any endorsing bodies to approve or certify your product, ensure that you meet the set criteria in the Standard and have advised such organisations of your intention and have their authority and licence to use their trade mark for that product. This is an express requirement of the new Standard. Documents proving that approval must be retained for at least two years after the last product bearing that mark is sold, advertised, or available for sale.

Authorise

Test product formulation to be sure that it complies with the new Standard and any claims being made about the product. This can be conducted by in house food technologists or outsourced to specialist service providers. Ensure proper record keeping of results. The Standard introduces a nutrient profiling scoring criterion (NPSC) which establishes the guardrails for any health or nutrition claims being made. Food technologists may need to assess the NPSC of products.

If you wish to use claims such as “low in fat”, “diet”, “no added sugar” you will need to ensure that the product composition meets or exceeds the criteria set out in the Standard.

Adapt

Once your new compliant packaging and promotional material is prepared, distribute product as soon as possible. There is no need to wait until 18 January 2016 as there has been a three year transition period which has allowed early adopters to move ahead of that deadline.

Finally, establish a process to monitor and deal with any complaints about claims made on the new packaging.

Amy Cowper is a senior associate in the Sydney office of international law firm Bird & Bird.

 

FSANZ proposes exemptions for products bearing Health Stars

FSANZ has called for submissions on proposed changes to the nutrition and health claims standard.

FSANZ Chief Executive Officer Steve McCutcheon said the proposal would provide exemptions from claim requirements in the Food Standards Code for trademarked elements of the Health Star Rating system.

“The trademarked energy and nutrient icons in the Health Star Rating system essentially duplicate what’s required in a nutrition information panel,” McCutcheon said.

“The changes in this proposal mean food manufacturers voluntarily using the trademarked elements of the system won’t be disadvantaged by having to also meet claim requirements in the Code.”

The proposal also addresses some inconsistences in current standards, with changes made to make those standards clearer.

All FSANZ decisions on standards are notified to ministers responsible for food regulation. The ministers can decide to adopt, amend, or reject standards or they can ask for a review.

The closing date for submissions is 6 July 2015.

Last month, Assistant Minister for Health Fiona Nash said she is extremely pleased with the uptake of the Health Star Rating system after Kellogg’s announced its 37 products will display the Health Star Rating on the front of the pack.

FSANZ has also called for submissions on the proposal to consider introducing certain temporary maximum residue limits (MRLs) for residues of agricultural and veterinary chemicals that may occur in food, in order to align standards with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) temporary MRLs for coumatetralyl and warfarin in pork commodities.

 

Chemical migration, food packaging and the Code

FSANZ is in the process of reviewing the Food Standards Code in relation to chemical migration from packaging into food, but what does this mean for food manufacturers?

It is an offence to sell food packaging or handling materials that are unsafe or will make food unsafe, but the Code does not yet comprehensively pin down at what level or exposure certain chemicals will become unsafe when used in packaging.

The Code – as it stands

Food businesses must comply with requirements in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. Currently, there are four main areas of the code which cover chemical migration currently in force.

Standard 1.4.3 – Articles and Materials in Contact with Food

This standard specifies that any material in contact with food, including packaging material, must not cause bodily harm, distress or discomfort. But it does not specify materials that can be used in the manufacture of food packaging materials or the method of manufacture.

Standard 1.4.1 – Contaminants and Natural Toxicants

The standard includes maximum levels (MLs) for a few chemicals associated with migration from packaging, but is in no way exhaustive. It covers the real nasties, including vinyl chloride, tin, acrylonitrile (a genotoxic carcinogen) and other potential contaminants such as polychlorinated biphenyls.

Standard 3.2.2 – Food Safety Practices and General Requirements.

This Australia-only standard details requirements on food businesses to only use packaging material that is fit for its intended use; only use material that is not likely to cause food contamination; and ensure that there is no likelihood that the food may become contaminated during the packaging process.

The code needs work, and they’re getting there. But in the meantime, what should manufacturers do?

Dr Barbara Butow, a senior scientist at Food Standards Australia New Zealand, says manufacturers can look to EU and US regulations, which are more comprehensive than Australia’s current standards.

EU or US codes – how are the two different?

The EU requirements regulate migration limits and migration into food, whereas the US requirements are around the packaging itself.

“The USFDA requirements are incredibly detailed around what you can use your packaging for and under what conditions, so temperatures and times and for what materials,” Butow says.

“So the outcome is the same, as I understand it, but the way that you get there is slightly different. I think the EU regulations appeal to a lot of companies because it’s a level that can be measured, whereas the US regulations, they’ve got a database of Cumulative Exposure Data Intake (CEDI), which is around the exposure to the chemical from the packaging.”

Butow says manufacturers can help ensure their product is safe by going back to their suppliers for assurance.

I think they need to be aware what the packaging material is, what potential chemicals could migrate from there and under what conditions. If it’s a material that’s going to be stored for a long time, is it greater potential for migration or leakage of chemicals.

“They need to look at how’s it going to be stored and what food is the packaging going to be used for. All those things are good manufacturing practice. If it’s following GMP, then you can look at some of the iso standards. If people are concerned about mineral oils leaking from cardboards then maybe put a barrier in, although some people say the barrier might not be adequate.

“So there are codes of practice out there which describe all these things and then there’s a code of practice for printing inks, the EuPIA code of practice.”

Butow says that while food manufacturers can access international regulations, they’re not easy to navigate.

“[International regulations] are not a one stop shop and certainly the code of federal regulation in the US, you have to go through layers upon layers to get down to the chemical that you’re interested in to get the actual requirement. It is there, but not the risk assessment behind it.”

Is it safe?

Butow says that while consumers might not assume there’s regulation on absolutely everything, they “just expect packaging to be safe.”

“It’s only when there’s something on the news and again it tends to have a bit of an imported food bend to it than people’s ears prick up.”

“We really welcome input from industry, it’s just a call for information, a call for participation,” Butow says.

“So if and when we go down the track of adding a bit of regulation, or touching up the standard, at least we’ll know who to approach for input.”

Dr Barbara Butow presented at the 2015 National Technical Forums.

 

Updated Food Standards Code to take effect on 1 March 2016

FSANZ has reviewed the Food Standards Code and released an updated version, which will take effect on 1 March 2016, with no transition period.

In preparation for the implementation of the new Code, FSANZ has advised that all involved in producing, manufacturing or selling food should review the requirements that relate to their products and ensure they meet all the requirements of the Code.

FSANZ reviewed the Food Standards Code to make the requirements clearer and to ensure it better meets the needs of stakeholders.

One of the reasons for changing the Code was to ensure it was more closely aligned with the food Acts of the Australian and New Zealand Governments and Australian states and territories, which rely on requirements to be clearly stated. The changes will reduce uncertainty when it comes to code enforcement issues.

Most of the changes were made to chapter one and two and FSANZ says while the code will look different, there have been no major changes.

The changes that have been made include updating the wording to clarify key areas, such as:

  •  the Code’s requirements; to make it clearer who has to comply
  • provisions relating to food additives, processing aids and nutritive substances
  •  food composition requirements, to clarify when a requirement is:

    • legally required for the sale of a product, or is
    • a prerequisite to a permission, for example to add a food additive.

A dictionary of defined terms that will help users navigate the Code more easily is also included in the revised Code.

The revised Code can be viewed here.

FSANZ has produced a video to explain the changes:

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Dirty eggs recalled due to potential salmonella contamination

RL Adams Pty Ltd has recalled Darling Downs Fresh Eggs and Mountain Range Eggs from independent supermarkets, fruit and vegetable stores & butcher shops and some cafes in QLD, NSW and NT due to dirty eggs, with potential for microbial contamination.

The recall concerns Darling Downs Fresh Eggs (300g, 350g, 500g, 600g, 700g, 1500g) and Mountain Range Eggs (350g, 500g, 600g and 700g) with Best Before dates between March 26 2015 and April 22 2015.

The eggs are individually stamped with a Julian date of 036 up to and including 063. Eggs with Julian date prior to and after 036 and 063 are not impacted by this voluntary recall and withdrawal.

Darling Downs Fresh Eggs said the recall is due to a potential production issue and “it is possible that dirty eggs may have been packed into some of these [recalled] cartons and we are implementing a voluntary recall of these eggs.”

Following the recall, the egg industry has said it is supporting Queensland and South Australian health authorities in their investigations into recent reports of foodborne illnesses.

Australia Egg Corporation Managing Director James Kellaway says that the egg industry is well regulated with respect to public safety and maintains a high standard of food safety compared to other countries.

"However, like all perishable foods, eggs need to be handled carefully," Kellaway said.

"Australia has some of the safest eggs in the world. This is the result of high quality standards applied across industry combined with a system of food safety regulation that is on par with the world’s best," he said.

"AECL has also launched a national Salmonella Initiative with a dedicated member of staff working to inform people across the supply chain about how to reduce the risk of salmonella for consumers. Through the Salmonella Initiative, AECL has been collaborating with relevant through-chain stakeholders Australia-wide (producers, retailers, health departments, regulators, food service operators, chefs) to identify appropriate controls measures at various stages through chain," he said.

"The ultimate output of the Salmonella Initiative will be a through-chain risk assessment that includes research-based knowledge to be used as the basis for management of each risk which will also identify knowledge gaps that can be filled through the AECL R&D program."

All Australian egg producers are required to comply with the Food Standards Code as regulated by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ), which requires all eggs to be stamped with an identifying mark to enable traceability and prohibits the sale of cracked and dirty eggs.

The egg industry also has a voluntary quality assurance scheme called EggCorp Assured and food safety is a central component of the scheme.

Any consumers with any recalled product is advised to return it to the place of purchase and ask for the stock to be replaced.

 

Australia asks China if further berry shipments will be safe

The Department of Agriculture is seeking assurances from China about the safety of further shipments of frozen berries.

Consumption of Nanna’s brand frozen mixed berries has been linked to the 13 cases of Hepatitis A in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and WA as of Wednesday afternoon (18 February).

The department has engaged with authorities through the Australian embassy staff in Beijing and is tracing products in supply chains as part of working with importers to manage potential risks.

The department has formally requested a review of the risk status of frozen berries from FSANZ. The department will also consider the outcomes of incident investigations conducted by the state and territory food authorities.

FSANZ provides advice to the department on which imported foods are considered to pose a risk to human health. In the case of the frozen berries, the department is working to gather information to determine what further action might be taken.

Assistant Minister for health, Fiona Nash said “Once FSANZ reports back to us with the information it is seeking from Chinese food authorities, we will be able to assess whether further steps need to be taken.

“If, upon consideration of all available information, the circumstances require a review of current arrangements or improvements to the system, we will act on this.”

The Department of Agriculture’s Imported Food Inspection Scheme (IFIS) is a risk-based border inspection scheme.

Food items that pose a medium or high risk to human health are called ‘risk foods’ and are tested at rate of 100 per cent until a good compliance history is established with a particular importer—they are then tested at a rate of 25 percent of consignments, dropping to a minimum rate of 5 percent of consignments if good compliance continues. The inspection rates are established in legislation.

Risk foods are typically pre-prepared, ready-to-eat foods including certain cheeses, cooked meats and seafood, and cured meats.

All other foods are considered to be ‘surveillance foods’. Surveillance foods are randomly inspected at a rate of 5 per cent of all consignments. Samples for laboratory analysis (tests may include chemical residues, heavy metals or natural contaminants) may be taken as well as assessing compliance with packaging and labelling requirements.

Routine testing for viruses in food can be problematic. FSANZ advises that this is because the virus in contaminated food is usually present at extremely low levels where the pathogen cannot be detected by available analytical methods.

The department’s imported food inspection scheme is a risk-based inspection scheme, and the rates of inspection and classification of imported foods can change with new information to hand.

Other government actions regarding the Hepatitis outbreak include:

  • The Department of Health had set up the National Incident Room up in Canberra to deal with the issue and will remain active until this issue is resolved.
  • The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, consisting of all State and Territory Chief Health Officers and chaired by the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer, met Tuesday (17 February) to coordinate jurisdictional public responses.
  • The OzFoodNet and the Communicable Diseases Network of Australia are conducting an investigation into the issue.
  • The National Food Safety Network, chaired by FSANZ met yesterday and is seeking further information from Chinese food authorities.
  • The National Blood Authority and the Australian Red Cross Blood Service (ARCBS) are monitoring the situation closely and continue to take steps to protect the blood supply from the virus.
  • The Department of Agriculture formally requested a review of the risk advice from FSANZ about frozen berries, and will consider the outcomes from the incident investigations conducted by the state and territory food authorities.

The recall has prompted calls for stricter country-of-origin labelling.

Choice launched a petition calling on the Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, to take action on country-of-origin labelling.

“We are mobilising consumers to put pressure on the government to fix our country of origin labelling laws. The latest frozen food farce highlights how difficult it is under the current system for consumers to make informed choices in the supermarket,” says Choice spokesperson Tom Godfrey.

“Confused claims such as ‘Packed in Australia using imported fruit’ or ‘Made in Australia using local and imported ingredients’ offer very little information about a product’s origin and are largely meaningless to consumers. We deserve to know where our food comes from.”

"The petition has only been live for a few hours and already over 1600 consumers have signed up calling for the government to take action on country of origin food labelling," Godfrey said.

“We’ve had inquiry after inquiry on this issue. Year after year it rates as a top concern for Australian consumers. It’s time for action.

 “The best way to create labels for consumers is to test the language to find phrases that most people understand.  Consumer research must be undertaken before making any changes to the current labelling framework.”

“Consumers should be able to make informed decisions about the food they are purchasing and while country of origin labelling isn’t a proxy for food safety, the information is sought after by many shoppers,” Godfrey said.

 

Proposal to overturn a ban on hemp food rejected

Australian and New Zealand ministers have decided to maintain the ban on low THC hemp as food due to law enforcement concerns.

Several concerns were raised by some Forum Members, including law enforcement issues, particularly from a policing perspective in relation to roadside drug testing, cannabidiol levels as well as the marketing of hemp in food may send a confused message to consumers about the acceptability and safety of Cannabis.

The Forum agreed that further work would be undertaken promptly to consider law enforcement, roadside drug testing and marketing concerns in consultation with relevant Ministers.

Since December 2012, the Forum has twice requested advice from FSANZ on the issue. In the FSANZ latest review, which was considered on Friday (30 January), FSANZ re-affirmed its support of the variation to the Code.

FSANZ recommended approval of the sale of hulled and non-viable hemp seeds after conducting an economic analysis as part of its assessment, which concluded the approved variation would provide moderate benefits to industry and consumers

The Forum noted that FSANZ found that foods derived from the seeds of low THC hemp do not present any safety concerns as food, and that concerns regarding the impact on police THC drug testing fall beyond the remit of FSANZ.

One day before the decision, the Premier of Tasmania, Jeremy Rockliff said that his government would “continue to strongly support and lobby for Federal approval for the use of industrial hemp products in food, which has huge potential to open new markets for the industry."

 

Ministerial Forum to consider approving low THC hemp as a food

The Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum will meet tomorrow (30 January) to review the use of Cannabis sativa with low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, in both seed and seed oil, as a food.

Hemp or industrial hemp is a Cannabis plant species (Cannabis sativa). Historically, hemp has been used as a source of fibre and oil.

Hemp is different to other varieties of Cannabis sativa, commonly referred to as marijuana. Hemp contains no, or very low levels of THC (delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the chemical associated with the psychoactive properties of marijuana.

Hemp seeds contain protein, vitamins and minerals and polyunsaturated fatty acids, particularly omega-3 fatty acids. Hemp seed food products may provide an alternative dietary source of these nutrients.

In December 2012 the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation sought a review of a FSANZ decision to approve an application seeking to permit low-THC hemp as food. This means the sale of foods containing hemp-based ingredients is still prohibited.

In New Zealand the sale of hemp seed oil as a food has been permitted since 2002, subject to certain conditions.

In December 2013, the Forum agreed to extend the review period until 30 June 2014 and asked for further advice from FSANZ. At its meeting on 27 June 2014, the Forum considered FSANZ’s advice and advised FSANZ that the review was due to be completed on 5 December 2014. The review has been completed and will be considered tomorrow.

The Forum received advice from Food Standards Australia and New Zealand, recommending approval of the sale of hulled and non-viable hemp seeds.

FSANZ conducted an economic analysis as part of its assessment, which concluded the approved variation would provide moderate benefits to industry and consumers.