Australian authorities have opened a comment period on a review of food safety management tools for the foodservice and retail sector.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has released a discussion paper, which is the first stage in a review of food safety management standards in Chapters 3 and 4 of the Food Standards Code.

“In June 2018 the Australia and New Zealand ministerial forum on food regulation noted the increase of foodborne illness outbreaks in Australia and agreed that there is a need to review food safety management for the food service and closely related retail sectors,” said Mark Booth, CEO of FSANZ.

“FSANZ has started a proposal to consider additional food safety management tools for these sectors. The discussion paper outlines potential ways to manage higher risk food handling activities in these sectors and is seeking comment from industry to help us better understand the gap between current practice and the proposed tools, including the costs and benefits to industry.”

The period for feedback closes on March 20, 2020. There will be another opportunity to comment in the call for submissions set for later this year.

Sector challenges
About two-thirds of reported foodborne outbreaks in Australia have been linked to food service and retail businesses, including restaurants, takeaways, commercial caterers, camps, cruise or airline, national franchised fast food restaurants and delicatessens, according to OzFoodNet data.

Past research has shown food handling errors such as improper temperature control, poor personal hygiene and cross contamination are consistently identified as contributing factors to foodborne illness.

Food service sectors have high staff turnover and relatively high proportions of workers who are inexperienced, casual staff and/or migrants from cultural and language diverse backgrounds.

Eight sectors have been assigned Priority 1 and Priority 2 classification. These businesses handle potentially hazardous food involving at least one step where control measures must be taken to ensure safety.

Such food supports growth of pathogenic microorganisms or production of toxins that may cause foodborne illness. Examples include products containing eggs, poultry, meat, seafood, fruit, vegetables, and cooked rice and pasta.

Priority 1 businesses generally prepare food in advance and often have challenging scales of production and service. Priority 2 firms generally handle final product, or make food for immediate consumption.

Three proposed changes
Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and Australian Capital Territory have requirements for food safety supervisors with competency-based training. Victoria and Queensland also have template-based food safety programs, which include record keeping requirements for key activities.

One proposal is that businesses would require food handlers to have completed such training to demonstrate the skills and knowledge requirement. Another is firms would be required to have at least one food safety supervisor certified.

Businesses may have to keep, and be able to demonstrate, evidence to support management of activities essential to produce and maintain safe food. These areas includes food processing, temperature control, cleaning and sanitizing and calibration and maintenance.

FSANZ is seeking information on the gap between current practice and the three proposals, the positive and negative impact on businesses of mandating these measures and if they will improve food safety outcomes.

The agency has another comment period open until March 18, 2020, on a plan to develop a primary production and processing standard for high-risk horticulture.

Speed and consistency for recalls
Meanwhile, the Produce Marketing Association Australia-New Zealand (PMA A-NZ) and GS1 Australia are supporting the Australian fresh fruit and vegetable industry through use of a national food recall platform.

Darren Keating, CEO of PMA A-NZ, said it is encouraging adoption of the GS1 Australia Recall portal within the fresh produce sector.

“By using tools such as GS1 Australia’s Recall platform, the industry can achieve greater speed and consistency in the management of their product recalls and withdrawals, delivering safer produce to Australian consumers.”

Use of the platform is supported by FSANZ as a communication tool that enables manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and importers to share product recall notifications with trading partners and regulators.

Marcel Sieira, GS1 Australia’s chief customer officer, said it will help PMA members be better prepared for product recalls.

“Being able to communicate with your key trading partners and regulators is key for organizations to protect their customers, their reputation and their brand.”

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