An application has been made to amend food irradiation rules in Australia.

The proposal seeks to increase the maximum permitted energy level of machines generating X-rays for irradiating food from 5 to 7.5 megaelectronvolts (MeV) as long as the X-ray target is made of tantalum or gold.

The assessment will not start until October 2023 with a comment period planned for early 2024, according to Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).

No change is sought to currently approved foods that may be irradiated or the conditions, including the dose range. The modification involves delivery of the radiation dose. Fresh produce except dried pulses, legumes, nuts and seeds can be treated with irradiation to kill pathogens that cause foodborne illnesses. Irradiation does not make food radioactive.

Highlighted benefits
The application was made by Steritech. In 2021 to 2022, the company irradiated 7,777 tons of fresh produce for export.

Reasons given by the firm for wanting the change include to increase efficiency of food irradiation and to reduce dependence on the radioactive isotope cobalt-60. X-rays are only produced when required and the radiation source can be switched off when not in use.

If operated at 7.5 MeV instead of 5 MeV, there would be a decrease in processing time and increased throughput; faster turnaround times and greater dose uniformity in food, according to the proposal.

Steritech said the change will translate to increasing the radiation processing rate from 12 pallets per hour to 17 or 18 pallets per hour.

The United States, Canada, Indonesia, India and Korea have already raised the maximum permitted energy for X-ray production to 7.5 MeV, said Steritech.

Updated food service rules and mollusks MLs
Meanwhile, the Food Standards Code has a new bit for food service and retail businesses. It aims to strengthen food safety in these sectors to protect consumers.   

FSANZ consulted with stakeholders as part of the assessment including how to improve food safety outcomes and any gaps between current and proposed practices. 

The new standard contains requirements for enhanced skills and training, along with key actions at critical steps known to manage food safety risks. Tools in the standard embed best practice and national consistency in food safety management to reduce foodborne illness. 

Businesses have until Dec. 8, 2023, to make the changes. Implementation will be supported by resources to improve food safety knowledge and culture. New regulatory measures are food handler training; a food safety supervisor; and evidence to substantiate food sa​​fety management of key processes. 

Finally, Australian officials are considering reviewing the biotoxin maximum levels (ML) for bivalve mollusks.

An application, made on behalf of the Australian Shellfish Quality Assurance Advisory Committee, seeks to harmonize the limits for diarrhetic (DST) and paralytic shellfish toxins (PST) with those in Codex and New Zealand standards.

Current Australian MLs for marine biotoxins in seafood were last reviewed between 1997 and 1999. Codex MLs for DST and PST are lower than those in the Food Standards Code. Plans by the committee would impact okadaic acid and saxitoxin. A public comment period is planned for early 2023.

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