New Zealand Food Safety has issued new import rules for frozen berries that aim to help keep citizens safe and improve processes at the border.

Changes will come into effect on Aug. 1, and importers have 18 months until Jan. 31, 2026, to transition to the modified requirements. 

From 2022 to 2023, there was an outbreak of hepatitis A virus associated with frozen berries from Serbia, affecting 39 people.

Changes to requirements
Vincent Arbuckle, New Zealand Food Safety deputy director-general, said several countries have recalled frozen berries in the past because of concerns about hepatitis A, which is not killed by freezing temperatures.

“We’ve worked hard to identify and implement ways to improve food safety rules to manage the risk to consumers better. As part of this, we worked closely with major frozen berry importers, who have expressed strong support for the changes,” he said.

“Now that the outbreak is over and affected products have been removed from the shelves, the risk to consumers has been reduced. Hepatitis A virus in imported frozen berries, however, remains a potential risk. If consumers have concerns or are part of a vulnerable population group, then they can heat-treat frozen berries to over 85 degrees C (185 degrees F) for at least 1 minute.”

Frozen berries have been moved from an Increased Regulatory Interest food to the High Regulatory Interest food category, which requires clearance to enter the country.

Requirements for microbiological testing of berries at the border have been replaced with stricter rules for manufacturers before shipping. 

In a first for the country, the changes introduce independent and third-party certification to confirm that an overseas manufacturer’s food safety systems meet New Zealand’s standards. Written assurance must be provided by an official certificate that meets certain requirements or a Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI)-recognized certificate accompanied by a manufacturer’s declaration.

New Zealand Food Safety does not intend to limit the use of third-party certificates to GFSI-recognized ones, but others must be assessed and approved by the agency.

Arbuckle said this gives the agency more confidence that risks associated with frozen berries are being managed before they come to New Zealand.

Consultation response
The rules apply to frozen berries, including mixed frozen food containing frozen berries imported from any country ready to eat (RTE). Examples of berries include blueberry, cranberry, raspberry, and strawberry.

It does not cover RTE frozen berries subjected to treatment sufficient to eliminate hazards, including norovirus and hepatitis A, and where evidence is shown to MPI of such methods. RTE frozen processed food containing berries, such as ice cream, frozen yogurt, and frozen desserts, are also exempt.

In July 2023, New Zealand Food Safety proposed the new import requirements, and a comment period was held between October 2023 and January 2024. Nine submissions were received from Foodstuffs New Zealand, Horticulture New Zealand, and United Fresh.

Overall, respondents supported the new requirements, especially third-party certification as an option for meeting clearance requirements.

Two parties raised concerns about the practicality and reliability of GFSI-recognized certification as applied to growers at primary production and asked for an alternative to be provided. The draft rules had already included another option.

Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) backed the planned changes. The United States requested clarification on whether a certificate issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to foreign governments for products covered by the notice would be acceptable. New Zealand Food Safety said it would reply directly to understand better the certificate referred to and to address the request for clarification.

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