New Zealand has unveiled a strategy and action plan to help focus resources so it can quickly respond to current issues and prepare for emerging threats.

The strategy sets out a plan of action to 2024 and includes five priorities: to ensure the country’s food safety system remains robust, support consumers to make informed food choices, contribute to new thinking in international forums, work in partnership with Māori and be innovative and forward-looking in meeting new challenges.

Bryan Wilson, deputy director-general at New Zealand Food Safety, discussed it at the organization’s inaugural Food Safety Summit in Auckland. New Zealand Food Safety is part of the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

Reducing foodborne illness in wider context
“It’s the beginning of a lot more work to ensure we are keeping pace with changing consumer expectations, complex food supply chains, and constantly evolving science,” he said.

“Reducing foodborne illness will always be New Zealand Food Safety’s core business. The strategy allows us to look at that work in a wider context so we can do our part in achieving the vision that New Zealand food is trusted and recognized by everyone, everywhere.

“The five priorities underpinning our strategy out to 2024 will pave the way for us to minimize foodborne risks to consumers and meet their expectations in other ways, for example informing them about the origin and authenticity of their food.”

Attendees at the one-day summit this week heard from Damien O’Connor, minister for food safety; Ray Smith, director-general at MPI; Dr. Guilherme da Costa, chair of the Codex Alimentarius Commission and Dr. Amy Kircher, director at the Food Protection and Defense Institute, University of Minnesota.

New Zealand exports food to more than 200 countries. In the year to June 2018 the value of food imports reached NZ$6.9 billion (US$4.5 billion), with 80 percent of the food made exported. The country also hosts two Codex commodity committees: meat hygiene and milk products.

Wilson said the strategy was tested with partners, consumers, customers, co-regulators and industry representatives.

“The strategy will help us to focus our resources on what’s important so that we can respond quickly to current issues, predict, and prepare for emerging threats,” he said.

“It’s important to note that the strategy and action plan is not an end, but a beginning. We will be actively monitoring and reviewing our progress every year. The good news is that New Zealand’s food already enjoys an excellent reputation at home and with our trading partners.”

Consultation and egg safety
Meanwhile, New Zealand Food Safety is seeking feedback on proposed changes to the Requirements for Recognized Agencies and Persons Food Notice.

The Food Act 2014, which came into effect in March 2016, introduced a risk-based approach to managing food safety. It requires businesses take responsibility for ensuring food is safe and suitable, and for specialist verifiers to check food rules are followed.

In May 2017, the Requirements for Recognized Agencies and Persons Food Notice set the rules for people and organizations wanting to be able to do verification functions under the Food Act 2014. The notice applies to individual verifiers and the agencies they work for, such as councils and private companies.

In July 2019, New Zealand Food Safety launched a remote verification process for food businesses and a recognition process to become a remote verifier.

Draft amendments reflect changes in the verification sector since May 2017. Comments must be submitted by Dec. 20, 2019.

Finally, the risk management program (RMP) template for eggs has been reviewed to update current legislative requirements.

The revised format sets out what operators need to know, what they need to do, records they need to show their verifier and the relevant regulatory requirements.

The template reflects the animal products notice: specifications for products intended for human consumption that came into force on Dec. 2, 2019. The RMP template for harvesting, candling or packing eggs will apply from Feb. 3, 2020 and operators are expected to implement it from this date.

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