There is currently no specific standard in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code for the activities of production and processing of horticultural produce.
Despite the lack of specific regulation on-farm, the majority of horticultural produce is grown under prescriptive supplier arrangements. Research has estimated that between 70% and 80% of horticultural produce is grown under Quality Assurance programs of one kind or another.
FSANZ has been examining the most effective ways of ensuring the safety of horticultural produce including examination of the food safety hazards relating to horticultural production and processing and the existing regulatory and non-regulatory measures used to manage those hazards.
For each step in the supply chain there are effective measures available, although not all horticulture businesses may fully understand the importance of effectively implementing measures to minimise contamination.
Safe Food is currently working on collaborative arrangements with all levels of Government and the horticulture industry towards:
- establishing world best practice in ensuring the safety of horticultural products
- ensuring each industry sector within the horticulture supply chain implements sound management systems to ensure safe and hygienic product is delivered to the market place
- adequate and nationally consistent Government standards and regulations relating to food safety and hygiene in horticulture
- effective crises management strategies being in place by the appropriate industry sectors and to this end, ensure that there is a fully integrated and effective communications network
The desired outcome is a greater awareness of, provision for, and commitment to, implementation of food safety measures in horticultural food businesses. In consultation with industry a model is being examined that builds on existing regulatory and non-regulatory measures and aims to maximise food safety in horticultural produce without undue cost to industry, consumers or government. This model is aimed at ensuring that an adequate standard is maintained against market requirements, both locally and overseas, and allows identification of if, and when, further regulation may be needed.
Despite the excellent work already done by retailers, processors and farmers, there is still a risk to the industry at large and to consumers from potential food safety risks that are not managed effectively. Businesses need to have an effective system for recalling unsafe food. For recall to be effective a system to trace produce back to its source is required.
In the event of a horticulture-based food borne illness outbreak, it is crucial to know who in industry and government to contact and the actions to manage the incident. There is value in developing a national industry-government response plan with the horticultural sector.
The result of such a protocol would be timely management should an outbreak occur. If produce can be more quickly traced back, food businesses notified and the problem communicated to the public, the impact of an outbreak can be minimised and thus potentially save lives. Furthermore, a quick resolution of such an incident would minimise the effect on industry.
Finally, it is important to establish whether these measures are achieving their intended outcome and, if not, look at alternative measures. If necessary, this information may indicate the need for further consideration of an on-farm primary production and processing standard.