What is a food incident?
A food incident is defined as as ‘any situation within the food supply chain where there is a risk, potential risk or perceived risk of illness or confirmed illness, associated with the consumption of a food or foods’ and relates to an issue that could, or is expected to, impact on multiple government jurisdictions’.
A food incident may be identified through a number of sources, for example food recalls, a multi-jurisdictional outbreak investigation and intelligence from industry, local/state government or international counterparts.
The role of FSANZ and food agencies
When a food incident occurs action is coordinated through the Bi-National Food Safety Network which is made up of the Australian state and territory and New Zealand food enforcement agencies and Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).
FSANZ’s role is to coordinate (meetings etc), share information and communicate including in many cases developing public statements. Actions are determined by the relevant government enforcement agency; however, all jurisdictions aim to be as consistent as possible. Responses are implemented under food laws and response plans or protocols in the states and territories and the Ministry for Primary Industries in New Zealand.
In some cases the National Incident Response Protocol will be triggered. The protocol provides guidance on the response to national food incidents linked to microbiological, chemical, radiological, physical or unknown hazards. The Protocol provides a link between the protocols of Australian Government and state and territory agencies responsible for food safety and food issues.
Read the protocol
FSANZ performs a number of key coordination roles under this arrangement including National Food Incident Coordinator, Risk Assessment Coordinator and Communications Controller.
FSANZ also coordinates recalls, in consultation with the business and state/territory governments.
Response in action
Since late August 2015, FSANZ has coordinated a number of food recalls (25 as of the 6 November) related to undeclared dairy present in coconut products. These products were recalled for non-compliance with Standard 1.2.3 (mandatory declaration of allergens) in the Food Standards Code. The recalls followed reports of anaphylactic reactions to some products.
The Bi-National Food Safety Network (Network) has been used for sharing and discussing information between FSANZ, state and territory authorities, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (imported foods) and the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries, to support both border and post-border activities. Under the Network, overall coordination, public communications and collation of testing data are being undertaken by FSANZ.
Working with industry
It’s vital for government and industry to work together during an incident. Product tracing can be complex and time is short. Alerting the appropriate government and industry groups to an emerging or current issue early, so that necessary action can occur, is critical to maintain the confidence of consumers and trading partners and to reduce the flow on effects on resources. One of the main ways industry can be prepared for an incident is to have recall plan which clearly defines roles and responsibilities and ensures businesses can respond quickly in a short timeframe if necessary. Read more in our Food Industry Recall Protocol.
FSANZ also works closely with industry and is working on ways to ensure communication with key industry representatives, including retailers, can be initiated quickly in the event of an incident.
Food industry recall protocol
State and territory recall contacts
Ministry for Primary Industries