The four steps of food safety systems

Who hasn’t felt nervous before an audit? There is so much pressure today on food safety professionals to accomplish successfully audits, especially when we have a big client requiring it or a certification body doing it. Most of us neglect the fact that audits should be perceived as one (more) powerful tool in the continuous improvement of our food safety system.

Audits
What is an audit? Probably one of the most common and used audit definition is the one provided by the ISO 19011 – Guidelines for auditing management systems. In its last update (2018) the ISO document defines audit as systematic, independent, and documented process for obtaining objective evidence and evaluate it objectively to determine the extent to which the audit criteria are fulfilled.

In this definition, ISO decided to reinforce the importance of the evidence being objective since the only change from the 2011 definition was the substitution of audit evidence for objective evidence. More details can be found in the GFSI definition for audit present in the GFSI Benchmarking Requirements version 7.2: A systematic and functionally independent examination to determine whether activities and related results comply with a conforming scheme, whereby all the elements of this scheme should be covered by reviewing the supplier’s manual and related procedures, together with an evaluation of the production facilities. Clearly, in common, we have that audits should be a systematic and independent process to determine compliance with criteria.

As a systematic process, auditing has two main roles:
1. Validating that the food safety systems are thought and built to fulfil the criteria
2. Verifying that the activities performed to comply with what is planned and are effective.
If we think in simple terms, we can divide a food safety system into four steps. First, we have to research what should be done (based on what the organisation does, the law, criteria or elements of the conforming scheme or system). Then say what you do. That is, we should have defined what is planned to do to fulfil the criteria. But this is not enough. More important even is to do as you say. In daily work, people in the organisation should execute their functions and tasks accordingly with what is established. Finally, we must have evidence to be sure we can always reply affirmatively to the question: is it done as said? During an audit, the auditor should validate that what you say you do is enough, go to the field and verify not only that things are done as said but also look for evidence that was done as said.
The Auditor

As presented above, during an audit the auditor must be able to validate and verify compliance with criteria or requirements. For that, the auditor must have adequate attributes and knowledge. In the diagram below are presented the main elements of an auditor and an audit.

If audits are to be used as a tool to improve the food safety system it must be performed independently and free from bias or conflict of interest, should be systematic and well documented. Although sometimes it may look like that anyone can be an auditor, that is not the case, at least, for food safety audits. The first two essential elements in an auditor, personal characteristics and skills are related to the person and not specific to food safety. Typically, an auditor should have ethical behaviour, be an organised and observant person (even curious) and have an emphatic and diplomatic approach. The auditor will also benefit from having skills related to how to question or interview people, how to conduct a systematic audit, how to prepare an audit report and active listening, among others. On top of the pyramid is, of course, the knowledge of food safety and the industry. It is paramount that auditors know the law and requirements or criteria that apply to the organisation and its product line they are auditing. Education, training and experience in the field they are auditing is also a basic requirement but is also essential for how much the organisation may benefit from the audit.
The Future of Audits
Assessing and harmonising an auditor’s knowledge and skills is certainly an important goal for the future. This is important not only to establish a minimal baseline of competencies for auditors but also to establish credibility for the profession and the process. The recent release by GFSI knowledge exam is a step in that direction, offering a consistent method to assess auditor knowledge across a range of relevant skills for all GFSI-recognised programmes. Auditors seeking to audit GFSI-recognised certification programs will find questions about specific technical skills well as standard audit skills.

Another aspect that needs to be improved is the perception of value added by food safety audits. Auditors should do everything in their power (without compromising the independent, systematic and documented approach) to make the process beneficial to the organisation and their food safety system.

Technology is evolving at an outstanding pace but for the moment the adaptation of new tools and technologies to auditing seems delayed. It is not difficult to foresee that technologies like smart glasses can play a role in the future of audits. Mainly people advocate that this tool could reduce travel costs but maybe we should focus more on how this technology could increase the number of audits for the same cost.

Push to take ‘milk’ away from non-dairy alternatives

Dairy advocacy group Dairy Connect has initiated an online petition aiming to stop makers of non-dairy drinks using the word ‘milk’ to describe their products.

Dairy Connect CEO Shaughn Morgan said there was a constantly evolving range of products such as ‘soy milk’ and ‘almond milk’ vying for consumer attention.

“We have seen a rise in the number of dairy-imitations made from plants,” he said.

“We believe that this has been the source of confusion among consumers, some of whom equate the great nutritional benefits of cows’ milk with the plant drink alternatives.”

Dairy Connect said the traditional definition of milk by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand was a liquid drink derived from the ‘mammary secretions of milking animals’.

The group claims such a change would deliver a clearer distinction between the two product types, including potential presence of allergens or intolerances; greater consumer awareness about the nutritional variations between traditional fresh dairy milk and plant drinks describing themselves as milks; and greater clarity regarding the methods of formulation used in the two different categories

Morgan pointed out that the European Union Court of Justice this year ruled in favour of the need to differentiate between dairy products and plant derived products:

“In light of this, we would like to see Australia keep up with the progressive dairy labelling laws in overseas markets and we support the initiatives being progressed in Europe and the United States,” he said.

“We encourage members of the community and industry stakeholders to show their support for dairy farmers by signing the petition and sharing the campaign.”

 

Egg producer penalised $750,000 for misleading ‘free range’ claims

The Federal Court has ordered Snowdale Holdings Pty Ltd (Snowdale) to pay penalties totalling  $750,000 for making false or misleading representations that its eggs were ‘free range’, in proceedings brought by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

“This is the highest penalty that a Court has ordered in relation to misleading ‘free range’ egg claims. It reflects the seriousness of Snowdale’s conduct and the importance of egg producers being truthful about marketing claims they make,” ACCC Commissioner Mick Keogh said.

“Consumers pay a higher price for free range eggs, so when a ‘free range’ claim is made, it’s important that consumers are purchasing eggs laid by chickens in free range conditions.”

“Farmers who have invested in changes to their farming practices so they can make valid credence claims such as ‘free range’ also need protection from others making false credence claims,” Mr Keogh said.

Snowdale supplied eggs labelled as ‘free range’ in Western Australia under brands including Eggs by Ellah, Swan Valley Free Range and Wanneroo Free Range. Snowdale also promoted its eggs as ‘free range’ on the Eggs by Ellah website from May 2013.

In May 2016 the Federal Court found that Snowdale’s labelling of its eggs as ‘free range’ between April 2011 and December 2013 was misleading or deceptive, and amounted to false or misleading representations. The Court found that most of the hens from Snowdale’s sheds did not go outside as the farming conditions significantly inhibited them from doing so. These conditions included the number of pop holes, the number of birds per metre of pop hole, the flock size inside the shed and the shed size.

The Court has also made an order preventing Snowdale from using the words ’free range’ in connection with its eggs unless the eggs are produced by hens that are able to go outside on ordinary days, and most of which actually go outside on most days.

Snowdale was also ordered to implement a consumer law compliance program and pay a contribution towards the ACCC’s costs.

Treasury Wine wins Penfolds trademark case in China

 

Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) has won the right to use the trademark “Ben Fu”, a transliteration of the word Penfolds, for use in China.

As Reuters reports, an individual in China had registered the trade mark in 2009. However, Beijing High People’s Court has now found that this person did not have any genuine use for the trademark in the wine industry or for related activities.

“This trademark will subsequently be cancelled, allowing for TWE to claim its right to ownership of the Ben Fu trademark registration and to freely use this trademark across China,” TWE said in a statement.

Treasury Wine’s managing director for Asia and Europe, Robert Foye welcomed the decision.

“Ben Fu is the most widely recognised wine brand in China,” Foye said.

“We have never wavered in our commitment to defend our position as the rightful owner of the Ben Fu trademark in China, and we are absolutely thrilled with this decision.”

 

Small manufacturers will get into the zone at foodpro

Australasia’s iconic food manufacturing event, foodpro, will be partnering with Food Innovation Australia (FIAL) in a brand new initiative: The Supply Chain Integrity Zone.

Security in the supply chain is vital to the food manufacturing process with traceability and audit compliance a priority; however smaller manufacturers often find it costly to comply.

The majority of technologies for traceability are often geared to larger manufacturers, which causes obstacles and barriers for smaller players in the industry.

In response to this, foodpro and FIAL have launched the Supply Chain Integrity Zone, a new initiative focusing on solutions available for small manufacturers who produce pre-packaged goods for sale to the consumer.

Companies across the various stages of the supply chain will be represented, allowing visitors to discuss end-to-end solutions with suppliers best suited for their business.

The zone will also include a series of seminars covering the latest technology, capabilities and insights.

“The Supply Chain Integrity Zone is a really important and exciting addition to foodpro” says Peter Petherick, foodpro Event Director.

“Foodpro has supported Australia’s manufacturing needs for 50 years, and it’s important we continue to respond to the industry as it changes. It’s become clear that there are an increasing number of smaller manufacturers whose needs, although similar to the bigger companies, must be met in more specific ways. The new zone serves a purpose for solutions and importantly, for discussion and engagement. With a focus on improving traceability and supporting audit compliance, the benefit to the industry will be incredible.”

The zone will feature companies that offer solutions specifically for smaller manufacturers who produce less than 10,000 units a week with a focus on areas including: materials in, processing integrity, packaging integrity, shipping & receivables and quality management solutions for traceability. FIAL is directly supporting the zone with the objective of increasing industry capability and compliance.

FIAL was established to foster commercially driven collaboration and innovation in the Australian food and agribusiness industry.

They are industry led and take a collective approach to ensure productivity, profitability and resilience in the food and agribusiness sector. Along with the partnership with FIAL, foodpro 2017 will also host wider discussions around innovation and the food industry with the annual AIFST (Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology) Convention.

Over 400 delegates are expected to attend the Convention’s 50th year to hear about topics such as the future nutritional needs, technology driving innovation, regulations related to imports as well as a roundtable discussing financing innovation and growth in the food industry.

For more information see: https://www.foodproexh.com/

Stainless steel pipe conveyor for food makers

Exair has added smaller and larger sizes to the air operated 316 Stainless Steel Threaded Line Vac conveyor product line, which is designed to convert ordinary pipe into a powerful in-line conveying system for food products, pharmaceuticals and other bulk materials.

The 316SS Threaded Line Vac is now available with NPT threads for use on 3/8 NPT through 3 NPT pipes.

Featuring large throat diameters for maximum throughput capability, these conveyors are designed to attach to plumbing pipe couplers, sanitary flanges and other pipe fittings.

Available from Compressed Air Australia, the 316SS Threaded Line Vac conveyors eject a small amount of compressed air to produce a vacuum on one end with high output flows on the other. Response is instantaneous.

Regulating the compressed air pressure provides infinite control of the conveying rate. Construction is durable Type 316 stainless steel to resist corrosion and contamination.

The 316SS Threaded Line Vacs can withstand temperatures to 204ºC.

Nine sizes are available. Applications include gas, grain or ingredient sampling, part transfer, hopper loading, scrap trim removal, tablet transfer and packaging. Other styles and sizes are available to suit hose or tube.

Additional materials include aluminium and abrasion resistant alloy. 316SS Threaded Line Vacs are CE compliant and solve a wide variety of conveying applications.

Rosella flies off with new branding

Rosella is set to unveil a new logo this November, which the company claims will be the most dramatic change in the company’s visual identity for 20 years.

According to Senior Brand Manager, Kristine Dalton, “The most immediate change is the rosella bird itself. We have revisited the grassroots of our original logo whilst preserving the distinctive, native Eastern rosella and have given it flight to represent the company continuing to keep pace with modern Australian eating.”

“We believe the change will be welcomed. The new design will appeal to a new generation of Australian families by capturing the essence of our Australian Spirit, our vibrancy, energy and our free spirit.”

Designed by Melbourne Design House Disegno, the logo represents the company’s colourful history in a modern and evolving style.

“As an organisation so engrained in Australian culture, we are excited for this change to continue our longstanding relationship between the Rosella brand and customers,” concluded Dalton.

The new logo will first appear on the 600ml sauce bottle, on shelves nationally in all Coles, Woolworths and Independents late November.

Thomas Foods International faces prosecution after worker injury

Thomas Foods International is being prosecuted after a backpacking meat worker sustained severe burns when he fell into a bath of harmful cleaning chemicals.

The incident happened in October last year when the Taiwanese worker, in Australia on a 457 temporary work visa, had been cleaning hooks by himself at the company’s hook room at its Murray Bridge abattoir when he fell into a 65°C floor level caustic soda bath, sustaining burns to nearly a third of his body, the Advertiser reports.

SafeWork SA is prosecuting the company over the incident which they claim was not reported to authorities for more than 12 hours.

SafeWork alleges the company breached its health and safety duty by allowing the employee to work with sodium hydroxide. They also claim the company did not provide necessary training and supervision to ensure the worker was protected from safety risks.

Thomas Foods denies the two counts of work health and safety law breaches.

In April, Big Mars, a labour hire company that imported Chinese and Taiwanese workers for the state’s abattoirs received a fine $240,000 over the incident when they admitted to breaching “extremely serious” workplace laws.

The industrial court found the company had failed to provide adequate instructions to non-English speaking workers in their native language.

The case is set for April 2017.

EasyMeals admits misleading consumers

Online food retailer EasyMeals by Flavour Makers has admitted misleading customers with its claims that its meals were suitable for all diabetics and with its free meal offers.

The suitability of the meals for diabetics actually depends upon the individual diabetic, their diet, and the severity of their condition.

And concerning the free meal offers, the company misled consumers into believing they could get a free meal simply by providing their contact information, when consumers could only obtain a free meal if they purchased a meal from the company first.

In addition, EasyMeals admitted that it failed to provide customers who had received unsolicited telemarketing calls with the information required by the unsolicited consumer agreements provisions of the ACL.

The admissions follow an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) investigation, which was prompted by a complaint from Anglicare Northern Territory, on behalf of a newly arrived migrant who was not fluent in English. The consumer had received telemarketing calls from EasyMeals, during which the company represented that its meals would be suitable for the consumer’s diabetes.

Following ACCC engagement, EasyMeals refunded the consumer; undertook an internal investigation aimed at implementing corrective measures; cooperated with the ACCC’s investigation; and agreed to rectify its practices to ensure future compliance with the ACL.

EasyMeals also offered a court enforceable undertaking to the ACCC.  The undertaking prohibits EasyMeals from engaging in similar conduct for a period of three years, and requires EasyMeals to implement and regularly review an ACL compliance program. The undertaking also requires EasyMeals to place a corrective notice on its website for a period of 60 days.

“Businesses supplying food products must take particular care to ensure that they do not misrepresent the suitability of their products for consumers with particular health conditions, such as diabetes or allergies,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.

“False or misleading representations of this type can have serious consequences for consumers with these conditions who rely on the representations.”

Dick Smith wins fight to keep Ozemite on shelfs

The Federal Court of Australia has decided that Dick Smith can continue to sell his OzEmite yeast spread, despite it having a similar name to another brand AussieMite.

In April 2014, the Australian Trade Marks Office decided that Smith’s trade mark for Ozemite should be struck off for non-use. Mr Smith had registered the Ozemite trade mark in 1999, but it took until 2012 before he launched a yeast spread product under the name.  The Trade Marks Office decided that this delay between registration of the mark and launch of the product was too great.

After a four-day trial in late 2015, Justice Katzmann has now delivered judgment, deciding that Ozemite can remain on the trademarks register.  In practical terms, this means that both products will continue to coexist and the owners of Aussiemite must pay Smith’s legal costs.

“It just seemed sensible to me that our OzEmite name, we came up with it first, and we should be allowed to keep it,” Smith said outside the court.

“If we lost this we would have had to close down the business.”

Elise Ramsey, Managing Director of AussieMite argued that there is no phonetic difference between the two names.

“The names sound exactly the same.  I’m a bit tired of explaining to potential suppliers that the two products are different.  We want to avoid confusion in the marketplace.  I do think it’s wrong that Mr Smith launched his product in 2012 in full knowledge that ours had already been in the market for years,” Ramsey said.

Image: SMH

ACCC takes action against Heinz over ‘healthy’ toddler food

The consumer watchdog is taking action against Heinz for claiming a food which contains 60 per cent sugar is good for toddlers.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has commenced proceedings in the Federal Court against Heinz in relation to its Little Kids Shredz products.

The Shredz products’ packaging features prominent images of fresh fruit and vegetables and statements such as ‘99% fruit and veg’ and ‘Our range of snacks and meals encourages your toddler to independently discover the delicious taste of nutritious food’.

The ACCC alleges that these images and statements represent to consumers that the products are of equivalent nutritional value to fruit and vegetables and are a healthy and nutritious food for children aged one to three years, when this is not the case.

“The ACCC has brought these proceedings because it alleges that Heinz is marketing these products as healthy options for young children when they are not. These products contain over 60 per cent sugar, which is significantly higher than that of natural fruit and vegetables – for example, an apple contains approximately 10 per cent sugar,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said.

The ACCC is seeking declarations, injunctions, pecuniary penalties, corrective notices and costs.

 

Potato farm fined over worker death

Oakville Produce’s potato farm has received a $187,500 fine after a truck driver was killed by a forklift in December 2013.

The company was charged with a breach of duty under the Work Health and Safety Act for failing to have a traffic management plan and equipping a forklift with inadequate visibility.

The 57 year old truck driver, along with a forklift driver and harvest supervisor, had been working at the potato farm at the time.

The truck driver and harvest supervisor were discussing work arrangements for the rest of the day when the forklift driver collected two empty bins from the trailer on the truck driver’s truck.

As the truck driver and harvest supervisor walked toward another truck for harvesting, the forklift driver reversed his forklift, which had a blind spot, and struck the two; killing the truck driver. The supervisor managed to escape unharmed.

Peter Dunphy, executive director of SafeWork NSW said the incident could have been prevented if adequate traffic management plans had been enforced.

“Forklifts are a major cause of death and injury in NSW workplaces,” he said.

He added that the best way to prevent accidents was to separate pedestrians and forklifts with barriers, and have a traffic management plan with rules about how and where vehicles should be operated.

“In this particular incident, Oakville Produce did not have a traffic management plan for the loading and unloading of forklifts in bin bay areas,” Dunphy said.

“They also failed to provide a forklift without blind spots or sufficient mirrors that addressed blind spots.

“This incident serves as a reminder to the agriculture industry of the importance of effective traffic management systems and I urge all agriculture businesses to develop one before there is a pedestrian injury or death at their workplace.”

Dunphy also said between July 2012 and July 2014, around 1,360 workers were injured in forklift incidents, including five fatalities, with a total cost of $15.8 million to the NSW workers compensation scheme.

 

 

 

 

‘Free range’ egg producer found guilty of deceiving public

Major Western Australian egg producer Snowdale Holdings has been found guilty of falsely claiming some of its eggs were free-range.

AAP reports that The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) brought the action against Snowdale in connection with its farms in Carabooda and the Swan Valley in December 2013.

The Federal Court of Australia heard that between 2011 and 2013, Snowdale produced eggs which were sold as popular free range brands, free range eggs by Ellah, Wanneroo Free Range Eggs, Mega Free Range Eggs, Swan Valley Egg Farm, Swan Valley Egg Co, and Carabooda Lovingly Hand Packed free range eggs.

On Wednesday, Justice Antony Siopis found that the ‘free range’ claims were misleading to the public.

“Each of the sheds at Carabooda had the capacity to house about 18,000 laying hens, whilst the shed at the Swan Valley farm had the capacity to house about 12,740 laying hens,” Judge Siopis said.

“I find that most hens did not exit [the sheds] and roam freely on an open range on most days.”

Snowdale said in a statement that it no longer sources eggs from the farms at Swan Valley and Carabooda.

“The Federal Court’s reasons do not have any bearing on Snowdale’s current free-range egg farm located in Gingin,” the company said.

“Snowdale’s free-range egg farm in Gingin uses world-best farming practices and has outdoor ranges stocked at no more than 1,500 chickens per hectare, more than six times than the forthcoming national free range standard.”

The company may appeal the decision. The Court said penalties will be announced at a later date.

Murray Goulburn to defend itself against class action

Murray Goulburn will fight a class action claiming the dairy co-operative allegedly made misleading claims in its Product Disclosure Statement last year.

As the Australian reports, a number of current and former directors of Murray Goulburn filed the action in the Supreme Court of Victoria yesterday.

In April Murray Goulburn downgraded its profit estimate to between $39 million and $42 million. Originally, in its prospectus, the co-operative had forecast a profit of $89 million. Then in February it lowered that figure to $63 million.

The statement of claim alleges contraventions of the Corporations Act through allegedly misleading or deceptive statements made in a Product Disclosure Statement issued on 29 May 2015 (PDS), and in subsequent market announcements.

It claims Murray Goulburn and its directors knew the financial projections were “unlikely to be achieved” at the time of its float.

“The companies strongly deny there is a proper basis for this claim, and will vigorously defend the proceedings,” Murray Goulburn said in a statement.

NSW bakery fined over salmonella outbreak

Betta Maid, an Unanderra bakery which closed last year, has been fined for selling unsafe food and breaching hygiene standards.

Wollongong Local Court fined the company a total of $63,000 plus $20,000 in court costs.

The charges were brought against the company in response to the NSW Food Authority’s investigation into a salmonella outbreak in 10 aged care facilities on the NSW South Coast and ACT between January and March 2015.

As the Illawarra Mercury reports, two residents died and 30 fell ill with a rare strain of salmonella at the facilities of aged care provider IRT.

Betta Maid supplied meat pies, potato pies, sausage rolls and other baked goods to IRT. Some of these were contaminated with a rare strain of salmonella.

The Local Court Magistrate Beattie, agreed with the Food Authority’s submission that there was a hygiene failure and fined the company accordingly.

The Food Authority said in a statement that it was pleased with a decision

“This court result serves as a reminder to all food businesses why food safety systems are crucial, particularly those businesses serving food to the most vulnerable in our community,” said Lisa Szabo, Chief Executive Officer, NSW Food Authority.

“Food businesses are obliged to ensure their food is safe and suitable for human consumption and comply with the standards in the NSW Food Act 2003,” she said.

Charges brought against Betta Maid director, Udo Boschan, have been adjourned to May 26.

Clean room differential pressure monitor

In order to monitor differential pressures in clean rooms, defined as a room in which the concentration of airborne particles is maintained within established parameters, ALVI offers a differential pressure transmitter; the DE21.

It is a compact, DIN Rail Mounted measuring instrument in 2-wire technology, serving to cover numerous measuring ranges in the low pressure area. Using capacitive measuring cells specially designed for nominal pressure ranges along with high overpressure safety, monitor ensures high precision, long term stability and drift free operation.

The measurement units, mbar, Pa, kPa and inWC, are selectable via the DIP Switch on the unit. It’s equipped with the 4 digit LCD display clearly indicating the measured differential pressure in selected pressure units.

Differential pressure is simply the measured pressure deviation between two points in different pressure systems.

If the pressure is too low, especially when a door is opened, contaminants can enter. If it is too high, energy is being wasted.

ACCC skewers Primo, KR Castlemaine & Otway Pork over labelling porkies

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has concluded investigations into alleged misleading conduct in the pork industry arising from ‘free range’, ‘bred free range’ and ‘bred outdoors’ labelling. 

The ACCC has accepted court enforceable undertakings from Primo Smallgoods, KR Castlemaine and Otway Pork as a result of these investigations.

“It is important that the description on product packaging and in promotional material accurately reflects the living conditions of the animals raised for the production of meat products,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said.

“When claims such as “free range” or “bred free range” are misused, consumers may be misled into paying more for a product feature that doesn’t exist,” Mr. Sims said.

In each of these three cases, the ACCC considered that the reference to either ‘free range’ (used by Primo Small goods) or ‘bred free range’ (used by Otway Pork and KR Castlemaine) in the promotion and labelling of the pork products was likely to give consumers the overall impression that the pigs were farmed according to free range methods. “

“These methods include that, at a minimum, pigs are able to move about freely in an outdoor paddock on most ordinary days. In fact, this was not the case.”

“In all cases, the producers have committed not to use the same descriptions unless their farming practices are such that, at a minimum, the pigs are able to move about freely in an outdoor paddock on most ordinary days. They have also agreed to implement consumer law compliance programs and publish corrective notices,” Mr Sims said.

 

Court battle comes to an end

Select Harvests and Almas Almonds have settled court proceedings by reaching a confidential agreement.

The court proceedings were brought by Almas Almonds against Select Harvests in relation to a previously terminated Almond Orchard Management Agreement.

Paul Thompson, Managing Director of Select Harvests advised that the parties have reached a confidential agreement to settle the proceeding.

Thompson said the agreement is effective immediately and the settlement will have no material impact on Select Harvests 2014/15 financial result or that of subsequent years.

Select Harvests is Australia's largest almond grower and processor, and is the third largest grower worldwide.

 

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.

 

Bonsoy settles for $25m

Bonsoy soy milk has agreed to compensate nearly 500 victims $25m, in the biggest payout for a food safety case in Australian legal history.

The case, which began in 2010, alleged that unsafe levels of iodine were added to the ingredients of the soy milk product via a seaweed product called Kombu, with nearly 500 people claiming they suffered dramatic and damaging health consequences as a result.

Jacob Varghese, class action Principal at Australia’s leading class action law firm Maurice Blackburn, said the thyroid and other health problems suffered by those that consumed Bonsoy were severe, and in some cases, life altering.

"We began this case in 2010, and it reinforces just how tough it is to pull these class actions together, to run them and fight them this hard for this long, and ultimately, how difficult it is to achieve a resolution for victims, hundreds of victims in this case," Varghese said.

"We believe this is the highest settlement of a food safety class action in Australia’s history, and it reinforces how important it is for people to have access to a mechanism that can help remedy a mass wrong, and in the process, place a check on corporate conduct.

"There are nearly 500 people we’re representing in this class action, and all of them have been badly affected in a variety of ways. For some like Erin Downie, our lead plaintiff, the effects still linger."

Downie became ill shortly after giving birth to her daughter Mirakye in 2008. She started drinking more Bonsoy in the belief its health benefits would help with breastfeeding. She was rushed to hospital by ambulance, suffered heart palpitations and unconsciousness.

She lost muscle function, became bedridden and her family suffered financial hardship due to her inability to work and her need for a carer.

"I lost the first years of being able to enjoy my only child’s life because of the illnesses I suffered. Instead of hundreds of precious family memories, my memories are of being severely sick," Downie said.

Under the settlement, the defendant companies will pay $25 million into a fund to be distributed to participants in the class action.

The settlement must be approved by the Supreme Court of Victoria. A hearing on approval of the settlement will occur on 29 January 2015. The defendants have not admitted liability.