Food recall guidance for businesses in New Zealand has been updated.

The guidance document includes example procedures, checklists, and spreadsheets plus revised recall risk assessment and audit forms. Six steps are listed with the first being investigate to understand the problem and the last is audit so corrective and preventative actions can be reviewed or identified.

The aim is to make it faster and easier for companies to prepare for and conduct food recalls.

Vincent Arbuckle, New Zealand Food Safety deputy director general, said food businesses generally do a good job of keeping their customers safe.

“When things go wrong, they have a responsibility to work quickly and effectively to identify and remove potentially unsafe products from shelves. The updated guidance will drive consistent best practice across all food businesses no matter their size or business model. We have a robust food safety system and New Zealanders rightly take it as a given that the food they eat will not make them sick,” he said.

Regulator’s role and mock recalls
In most cases, New Zealand Food Safety recommends a consumer-level recall if the product has a food safety problem and has been sold to the public and a trade-level recall if it has not been sold to consumers. A withdrawal can be done if it is not a food safety issue.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is also developing a video about how to do a food recall, and an online tool to help companies meet the requirements.

Businesses with a food control plan or national program, and importers and exporters must tell New Zealand Food Safety as soon as possible after deciding to recall but no later than 24 hours after making the decision.

Guidance includes information about how to practice food recalls to make them easier to deal with when they happen, said Arbuckle.

“These practice recalls work in a similar way to fire drills by ensuring processes are working and helping to identify problems before they arise,” he said.

“The best way people at home can prepare for food recalls is by having up-to-date information on recalls underway. That is particularly the case for those who have food allergies or are vulnerable to foodborne illness, including the very young, the elderly, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems.”

When the recall has been completed, MPI audits the process to see if it could have been done better and looks for improvements to food safety practices that could have avoided it in the first place.

Shellfish biotoxin alert
MPI has also issued a public health warning advising people not to collect or consume shellfish harvested from all of Crail Bay in the Marlborough Sounds.

Routine tests on shellfish samples from the region have shown levels of Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) toxins above the safe limit of 0.8 milligrams per kilogram set by MPI.

Mussels, oysters, tuatua, pipi, toheroa, cockles, scallops, catseyes, kina (sea urchin) and all other bivalve shellfish should not be eaten. Cooking them does not remove the toxin.

Symptoms typically appear between 10 minutes and three hours after ingestion and may include numbness and a tingling around the mouth, face, and hands and feet, difficulty swallowing or breathing, dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, paralysis and respiratory failure.

Commercially harvested shellfish sold in shops and supermarkets, or exported are not affected.

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