Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) came out Thursday, Oct. 22, with an annual report for 2014-15 including details on food safety activities for the two Down Under nations, which share a common Food Standards Code. Under the Australia New Zealand Food Code, FSANZ is charged with regulating and managing food safety risks in both countries. During the period covered by the annual report, FSANZ states that the agency coordinated 58 food recalls, most due to allergens or microbial contamination, with the predominate pathogen being Listeria monocytogenes. “Our focus in 2014-15 has been on meeting the strategic imperatives of the 2012-15 Corporate Plan — developing fit-for-purpose food standards, contributing to the management of food risks and providing information to help consumers make decisions,” said Steve McCutcheon, FSANZ’s chief executive. He noted that the first significant revision of the Australia New Zealand Food Code since its inception in 2002 has been completed and will take effect in March 2016. The year’s other major accomplishment was FSANZ’s role in the government-wide response to the Hepatitis A outbreak earlier this year caused by imported frozen berries. McCutcheon said that FSANZ worked with the Department of Agriculture on appropriate interventions under the Food Control Act of 1992 to bring the virus under control, an effort that involved importers, food retailers, and numerous other government agencies. He credits an effective communications strategy for quickly removing the product from not only the marketplace, but from home freezers. As for the coming changes in the code, McCutcheon said the agency did work on changes on minimum age labeling of food for infants and on review of food-related dietary supplements, but backed off both. “Abandonment of these two proposals was consistent with the principle of not adding to the industry’s red tape burden without good reason,” he said. FSANZ also expects lawmakers in both countries to repeal provisions of a 2011 law that has required food companies to report every instance of injury, death, or illness. The reporting requirement has resulted in about 5,000 reports, but only a handful have required any additional investigation. In addition to the Hepatitis A scare, FSANZ activated the National Food Safety Network a dozen times during the year, including once for raw milk. Health, agriculture, and food agencies are involved with the network. The agency also works with international partners, including the International Food Safety Authorities Network, or INFOSAN. Recalls of unsafe food were down from 66 during the previous 2013-14 reporting period to 58 for 2014-15. Twenty (20) were caused by undeclared allergens, 19 by pathogens, and 12 by foreign matter in food. The other seven recalls were for labeling (1), biotoxins (2) and other causes (4). Among the recalls for not listing allergens, six involved multiple allergens, and, in three instances each, it was lack of information on peanuts, wheat, and eggs that was the problem. Two involved dairy, and one recall each was due to sesame, tree nuts and soy. Listeria monocytogenes was responsible for eight of the microbial contamination recalls. Three were due to Salmonella, two were viral, one was E. coli, and one was Staphylococcus. Four were listed as either other bacterial or microbial. FSANZ also worked with the food industry in Australia and New Zealand on food recall plans for use by small to medium businesses. It is using infographics to explain how the government and the food industry work together to conduct effective recalls. Among other highlights for the year, FSANZ completed the second phase of the 24th Australian Total Diet Study, conducted a study on naturally occurring toxins in local plants that can find their way into honey, and another involving the concentration of arsenic, lead, tin and trans fatty acids in peach, pears and apricots.
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