This report describes potential emerging food safety risks (described as emerging issues) identified by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) in 2019 along with the ongoing food safety issues monitored during this period.
Food safety risks can emerge when new hazards are identified or if new information comes to light about an existing food safety hazard, such as increased exposure. Identifying and monitoring emerging issues enables FSANZ to better forecast and predict possible food safety risks, and develop appropriate measures to manage the identified risks if required.
FSANZ develops food standards that become part of the Australia and New Zealand Food Standards Code. FSANZ identifies emerging and ongoing food safety issues within this broader context of standards development. As a consequence, the types of issues identified in this report are likely to be ‘hazards’ that need some further investigation. These can be chemical such as glutamates, microbiological such as Hepatitis A in berries, or physical such as microplastics in foods in nature.
Additionally, the food regulatory system has well established processes for food recalls and food incidents. A food recall is action taken by a food business to remove unsafe food from distribution, sale and consumption. FSANZ coordinates and monitors food recalls in Australia, while New Zealand Food Safety coordinate recalls in New Zealand. Individual food recalls and incidents are not normally identified through the emerging issues framework, and they not included in this report.
FSANZ has begun work on longer term emerging issues and we have engaged our key stakeholder committees in horizon scanning across two, five and ten years. The outcomes from the process with the Consumer and Public Health Dialogue (CPHD) and the Retailers and Manufacturers Liaison Committee (RMLC) have been included in the report. This is an overt strategy to lift FSANZ’s emerging issues gaze from hazards to also include broader processes for example climate change and changes such as consumption habits and supply chain issues. Future annual emerging and ongoing issues reports are expected to have a greater focus on these types of processes and changes.
Emerging and ongoing issues
During 2019, FSANZ identified one emerging issue (Salmonella in raw fish), which was archived, together with two ongoing issues. A watching brief on eight ongoing food safety issues was maintained.
FSANZ undertakes a distributed system for identifying and managing emerging issues (see Figure 1). Issues are identified by FSANZ officers from a range of sources including the scientific literature, traditional and social media, international organisations and agencies, and public and industry consultations.
The Senior Science and International Group (SSIG), comprising senior scientists and topic experts, operates as a clearing house for issues identified. SSIG provides advice to the agency on the best approaches for further investigation and management of identified issues. Management will be case specific and may include additional data and information collection and maintaining a watching brief on the issue.
Issues are archived from the emerging and ongoing issues system when their management is subsumed within another process, for example a standards development . They may also be archived when there is no further action required following the issue’s investigation.
FSANZ also initiates work in response to other significant issues with potential to impact safety or confidence in the food supply outside of the emerging issues framework. In response to a devastating bushfire season in 2019 and early 2020, FSANZ has been proactively working with jurisdictions and other partners in the food regulation system to facilitate a consistent approach to identifying and responding to potential public health and safety concerns. The FSANZ website has been updated with information from state and territory health authorities on food safety during emergencies.
Figure 1: Emerging and ongoing issues management in FSANZ
Emerging food safety issues
There was one new emerging food safety issue in 2019, Salmonella in raw fish, which is discussed below.
Additionally, there was an outbreak of Salmonella enteriditis linked to eggs in mid-2019. The response to this outbreak has been coordinated by FSANZ under the National Food Incident Response Protocol, and is not recorded as an emerging issue.
Salmonella in raw fish
Salmonella is considered a potential food safety hazard in farmed prawns or shrimps but not for farmed finfish; it has not been identified as a risk for raw fish within the Code and is not tested for in most industry HACCP programs. However, contaminated whole fish and processed portions have the potential to cross contaminate equipment and premises, even if the end product is cooked. Moreover, fish fillets such as tuna, may be eaten raw in sushi, sashimi, ceviche. Three serotypes of Salmonella from one farmed species have been found to cross-contaminate equipment and two other fish species. FSANZ is not aware of any human health issues directly related to this issue and would view this as a potential emerging issue – particularly with the increase in consumption of raw fish such as sushi, sashimi, ceviche, poke.
FSANZ has archived this emerging issue, and will continue to maintain a watching brief for future developments.
Ongoing food safety issues
FSANZ continued to actively investigate or maintain a watching brief for eight ongoing food safety issues (Table 1).
Table 1: Ongoing food safety issues in 2019
Ongoing issue |
A description of the issues and steps taken by FSANZ
to address the issue
Arsenic in rice
Arsenic may be present in foods due to its occurrence in water, air and soil arising from natural occurrence or industrial processes.
The inorganic form is of most concern for adverse effects in humans. Due to these possible effects its level should be kept as low as reasonably achievable. FSANZ provided input into the development of an analytical survey, commissioned by New Zealand Food Safety (NZFS), which looked at the levels of inorganic arsenic in rice and rice-based products. The survey showed that, where present, inorganic arsenic concentrations were low compared to levels reported from comparable studies overseas. A journal article on the study, co-authored by the NZFS and laboratory commissioned to do the work, was published in August 2019 in Food additives and contaminants. FSANZ will continue to stay abreast of any international developments in this area.
3-monochloro-propandiol and glycidyl esters
Glycidyl esters (GE) and 3-monochloro-propandiol (3-MCPD) esters occur in some foods as a by-product of the refining process for oils and fats. FSANZ is aware of potential health concerns with these contaminants and has worked with regulatory bodies worldwide to investigate whether these contaminants pose any risk to consumers. FSANZ has provided input into the development of an analytical survey, commissioned by NZFS, to look at levels of GEs and 3-MCPD esters in oils and infant formula products in the Australia and New Zealand. The survey provided FSANZ with information on an acceptable analytical method, and on how levels compare with those measured internationally.
In July 2019, Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Minister for Youth and Sport Richard Colbeck and Minister for Health Greg Hunt asked FSANZ to provide advice about current caffeine permissions in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code, and to consider preliminary recommendations for strengthening regulations and consumer warnings in relation to caffeine powder and high caffeine content food.
In September 2019 Minister Colbeck released the report and agreed to all recommendations made by FSANZ to enhance consumer safety with regards to caffeine powder and high content caffeine food. The report is available on the FSANZ website.
FSANZ prepared an urgent Proposal P1054 – Pure and highly concentrated caffeine products, to protect consumers from the immediate and acute risk from these types of products. In December 2019 FSANZ approved the prohibition of the retail sale of foods in which total caffeine is present in a concentration of 5% or more (if the food is a solid or semi-solid food) or 1% or more (if the food is a liquid food). This prohibition came into force on 12 December 2019.
FSANZ will undertake a full assessment of the prohibition within the next 12 months to decide whether to affirm, reject or amend the approved variation.
Work is also progressing on the implementation of the other four recommendations from its report to Ministers. This includes the development of a consumer education campaign on safe caffeine consumption and guidance for jurisdictions on the regulation of products containing pure or high concentrations of caffeine.
Hepatitis A virus in ready-to-eat berries
Transmission of hepatitis A in association with the consumption of ready-to-eat berries and berry products has emerged in recent years in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Canada and the USA.
FSANZ and the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) have jointly prepared guidelines on thermal inactivation of hepatitis A virus in berries. FSANZ and the NZ MPI are collaborating on a joint research project investigating thermal inactivation of hepatitis A virus in berries.
A number of intense sweeteners are approved for use in Australia and New Zealand. There are ongoing safety concerns raised by consumers with a particular focus on aspartame.
FSANZ’s comprehensive pre-market assessments and previous surveys of intense sweeteners have found that there are no safety concerns for consumers and dietary exposure is less than the established acceptable daily intakes for each intense sweetener.
FSANZ is collaborating with NZFS to review the currently permitted intense sweeteners in the Food Standards Code. From the scoping and research phase of this project it was identified that only steviol glycosides required a further more detailed assessment. It is proposed that this will be in the form of an analytical survey in order to gather more specific concentration data for steviol glycosides in foods that can be used to undertake a more refined dietary exposure assessment as required.
Microplastics in the food supply
Microplastics are generally defined as those plastic particles that are less than around 5 mm in size. There is ongoing interest within the scientific community, media and general public as to whether there are any potential health effects associated with exposure to microplastics via the food supply.
The scientific evidence on potential exposure and health risks continues to evolve. However, our view remains that plastic contamination of the food chain is unlikely to result in any immediate health risks to consumers. FSANZ will continue to maintain a watching brief on this issue and consult with our international counterparts on any new findings in this area.
Per- or polyfluoroalkyl substances
is conducting a survey (27th Australian Total Diet Study) to assess the
levels of PFAS in the national food supply and estimate dietary exposure for
the general Australian population. Sampling is being conducted over two periods
in 2019 and 2020 with a final report expected to be published in mid-2021. The
report will include a risk assessment comparing estimated dietary exposure for
selected PFAS congeners against the relevant TDIs and consider the need for
risk management actions, such as new or revised standards or non-regulatory
No recent risk assessment issues have been identified that requires consideration by FSANZ. FSANZ will reconsider following further Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives risk assessment deliberations.
Archived food safety issues
Three ongoing issues were identified for archiving or management through other processes in 2019 (Table 2).
Table 2: Ongoing food safety issues identified for archiving or management through other processes in 2019
Antimicrobial agents are essential drugs for human and animal health. However, the continuing emergence, development and spread of pathogenic microorganisms that are resistant to antimicrobials are a cause of increasing concern.
FSANZ is a member of the Australian Strategic and Technical Advisory Group on AMR and continues to be engaged in activities consistent with and complementary to the overall Australian Government effort to contain AMR.
The Australian government recently published a
review of published and grey literature on AMR in food.
|Glutamates in food|
Glutamic acid is an amino acid, a building block of proteins, naturally produced in humans and occurring in, for example, tomatoes, soy sauce or certain cheeses. Glutamic acid and its salts (E 620-625) commonly referred to as glutamates, are permitted food additives in Australia and New Zealand. They are added to a wide range of foods to enhance flavour by giving them a “savoury” or “meaty” taste. There is currently no established acceptable daily intake (ADI) for glutamate as a food additive in the European Union, Australia and New Zealand or by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA). As a result, the intake of glutamate as a food additive in food is not considered to pose a health concern.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) re-assessed the safety of glutamates used as food additives and derived a group acceptable daily intake (ADI) of 30 mg/kg body weight per day for glutamate. This safe level of intake is based on the highest dose at which scientists observed no adverse effects on tested animals in toxicological studies. EFSA recommended that the European Commission considers revising the maximum permitted levels, in particular, in food categories contributing the most to the overall exposure to glutamic acid and its salts: fine bakery wares, soups and broths, sauces, meat and meat products, seasoning and condiments and food supplements.
FSANZ has published its current understanding on the effect of glutamate as a food additive raised by EFSA. FSANZ has reviewed the opinion published by EFSA and determined no changes are needed to the Australian New Zealand Food Standards Code.
Salmonella in raw fish
FSANZ identified this as a potential emerging food safety issue in 2019 and after assessment decided to archive the issue. Normal watching brief will be maintained.
Stakeholder engagement in emerging issues
In 2019, FSANZ actively engaged two key stakeholder committees, the Consumer and Public Health Dialogue (CPHD) and the Retailers and Manufacturers Liaison Committee (RMLC), in our identification of emerging issues, and the future trends impacting on the food regulatory system.
For the CPHD, members were tasked with identifying the top 3 emerging risks they considered FSANZ needs to prepare for in order to maintain and enhance confidence in the food regulatory system. The key emerging issues that the CPHD identified were grouped into the 6 broad themes below.
Sustainability and climate change
Including the management of potential new safety threats, information for consumer purchase choices, nutrition implications of the promotion of plant-based diets, use of packaging.
Information for consumers
Particularly related to the marketing of foods and the potential for misleading consumers, consistency and basis of Health Star Ratings, lack of investment in nutritional literacy.
Innovation & changes in the food supply
Potential impacts on food nutritiousness of innovations in food technology; implications for nutrigenomics and personalised medicine, nutritional quality of replacement foods, nutritional implications of growth in vegan foods, nutrient-based versus whole food based approaches, internet sales and new ways of procuring food.
Governance and process
Factors other than science in decision making, potential for conflicts of interest in policy development, investment in primary data and science to underpin risk assessment.
Obesity and overweight
Use of warnings for nutrients of public health concern, cumulative impacts of growth in non-nutritive sweeteners.
Impacts of microplastics, antibiotic use in food, food additives and gut microbiome, food fraud.
A similar process was undertaken with the RMLC, and top five themes identified are below.
Unsafe products including ingredient substitution. The economic impacts (particularly in export markets) is considered a big issue.
Plant-based and synthetic meat
Ability for the system to manage safety and nutrition.
Use of recycled materials and a lack of regulation of food contact materials. Of similar concern was the reduction of plastic and potential impacts to food safety and food waste.
Impacts on food safety, composition and quality of food.
Ability for the system to manage risk while keeping up with innovation.
FSANZ will use these findings to help focus and inform future adjustments to the scope and content of our work on emerging issues and intelligence gathering.
FSANZ Board and emerging issues
In March 2020 a similar process to that with stakeholder groups was undertaken with the FSANZ Board. The issues identified for the immediate future (to 2021) are grouped in the themes below.
Opportunities of the legislative review and FSANZ’s program of modernisation.
Consumer and stakeholder confidence
Communicating scientific risk and building confidence in our risk analyses, understanding challenges to communicating our analyses.
Innovation and food technology
New breeding techniques and novel foods.
Growth of discretionary/ultra-processed foods, current focus on nutrients, are the frameworks fit for purpose?
Capturing a range of disruptions such as bushfires and COVID-19, and raising issues around domestic markets and food security, consumer understandings and sensitisation to perceived vulnerability of food supply.
In the longer term future (5 years to 2025 and 10 years to 2030) some of the immediate themes were continued, for example innovation and food technology, and themes related to broader societal and environmental changes were also identified below.
Innovation and food technology
Related to new breeding techniques, new packaging technologies and market responses to consumer demands for increased sustainability, plant based diets and novel proteins.
Climate change and sustainability
Impacts on food production, costs of production and food security, increased use of waste streams and associated safety.
Consumer and social changes
Increased food service, values driven purchases, increased demand for information, impacts of social media, ageing and increased vulnerability of demographic groups, role of regulators in low trust environments.
Public health and diet
Obesity, cumulative and indirect effects of changes to food supply, supply of discretionary and ultra-processed foods.
Impacts on global supply chains, globalisation of food regulation.
Page last updated: 18 May 2020