To maintain a transparent and evidence-based approach to regulating and managing food risks.
- Coordinated 56 food recalls, mainly due to undeclared allergens and microbial contamination (predominantly for Listeria monocytogenes).
- Eight assessments made under the Food Medicine Interface Protocol, with the majority of products assessed as being of a therapeutic nature.
- Coordinated a toxicological study of pyrrolizidine alkaloids—naturally occurring toxins that appear in a number of Australian and New Zealand plants and can find their way into honey.
- Reappointed six eminent scientists as FSANZ Fellows, a source of independent and expert advice for many of FSANZ's projects.
- Continued to lead Australian delegations, or participate in the work of, a number of important committees of the Codex Alimentarius Commission.
- Continued to co-chair (on behalf of Australia) the APEC Food Safety Cooperation Forum with the People's Republic of China (General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine).
- Completed the second phase of the 24th Australian Total Diet Study—an analysis of 81 Australian foods and beverages.
- Conducted surveys of: domestic and imported shelf-stable peach, pear and apricot (in cans, tubs or snack packs) for concentrations of arsenic, lead and tin; trans fatty acids in Australian food; and the impact of mandatory fortification with folic acid and iodine on the nutrient content of bread.
FSANZ is committed to maintaining an in-house capability that can support regulatory decision making with the best available scientific evidence. Such a capability is essential not only to ensure evidence-based amendments to the Food Standards Code, but also to respond rapidly to food emergencies resulting from pathogens and other food risks.
We are fortunate to have high quality expertise across the natural, economic and social sciences within our staff. This is enhanced through our partnerships and informal contacts with our peers in academia, government and industry. Whether it be through a peer review process for our assessment reports or the secondment of staff to other organisations—in Australia, New Zealand or further afield—our goal is to maintain FSANZ's standing as a centre of excellence for regulatory food science.
The result is a body of knowledge in FSANZ—our evidence base—that supports our primary function of protecting public health and safety, and allows us to move quickly, in multidisciplinary teams, to provide authoritative advice to internal project managers and external stakeholders.
Strengthening our evidence base
Dietary exposure assessments
Dietary Exposure Assessments are a key part of FSANZ's work contributing to evidence-based decision making. Our dietary exposure assessments describe and quantify population intake of nutrients and potential exposure to food chemicals which is essential information for standard setting.
In 2014–15, we provided dietary exposure assessment input for food standards applications (e.g. voluntary addition of vitamins and minerals to nut-based and seed-based beverages) and proposals (e.g. managing low-level agricultural and veterinary chemicals without maximum residue limits) and for other purposes, including surveillance activities (e.g. screening of chemicals migrating from packaging into food).
The food-medicine interface
In Australia, products for oral consumption available in the marketplace are generally regulated as foods under the relevant Food Acts in each state and territory or as therapeutic goods (usually medicines) under the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989. It is not always clear whether some products fit under the food regulatory framework or the therapeutic goods regulatory framework. These products are said to sit in a grey area known as the food-medicine interface.
The Food Medicine Interface Protocol outlines the coordination, assessment and communication process to be followed when a product presents at the interface. FSANZ provides the coordination role under this ISFR-endorsed protocol, ensuring that issues are responded to in a timely, appropriate, consistent and coordinated manner. Since July 2014, eight assessments have been undertaken, with most products assessed as being therapeutic in nature.
Review of microbiological criteria
FSANZ released a consultation paper, in January 2015, seeking input on the role of microbiological testing, the use of existing microbiological limits and the proposed development and application of microbiological criteria to support food safety management.
Submitters supported FSANZ's application of internationally recognised principles—such as those of the Codex Alimentarius—in the review of microbiological criteria and establishing criteria as either food safety or process hygiene. As this work progresses, we will be developing guidelines on applying microbiological criteria in the context of through-chain controls (i.e. food safety standards and primary production and processing standards already in the Code) to:
- support and verify effective application of controls
- provide information to food business operators on microbiological levels which should be achieved when applying best practices
- assist in identifying situations (products and processes) requiring investigative action and/or control action.
We will be undertaking further consultation as we refine our work program. The next step is consulting on proposed microbiological criteria for infant formula in September 2015.
Domestic and international food incidents have highlighted the importance of traceability. The complexity of supply chains makes the process of product tracking slow and inefficient in times of crisis.
Chapters three (Food Safety Standards) and four (Primary Production and Processing Standards) of the Code specify requirements for food businesses to ensure they can trace food received by the business and sold by the business. These requirements are consistent with international (Codex) standards that work on the principle of being able to trace food products 'one step back' and 'one step forward' in the food supply chain.
During the year, FSANZ increased its understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of industry through-chain product identification and traceability by collaborating with state food regulators and industry sectors. We intend to consult more widely on gaps or issues with current traceability systems, on options for any remedial action, and about the guidance available on establishing and operating a traceability system.
Pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) are naturally occurring toxins that appear in a number of Australian and New Zealand plants.
We have successfully coordinated a toxicological study in partnership with the Australian Government's Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, and New Zealand's Ministry for Primary Industries and Bee Products Standards Council. The study aimed to characterise the risk to public health and safety of PAs found at low levels in honey.
We completed the study and submitted the data to the Joint Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) Expert Meeting on Food Additives (JECFA) for its evaluation. The new data appear reassuring with regard to the safety of a sentinel pyrrolizidine alkaloid found in Australian and New Zealand honeys. Nevertheless, we will be considering whether any further measures are necessary to protect public health and safety, and whether any further research should be undertaken.
The FSANZ Fellows Program was established to create a network of experts in a range of disciplines to provide advice and contribute to the work of FSANZ. During 2014–15, six Fellows were re-appointed by the FSANZ Board for a further three-year term. The Fellows that have engaged with FSANZ are making valuable contributions to ongoing work and will continue to contribute to the future work of the agency.
FSANZ Fellows during 2014–15 are listed in Table 8.
Table 8: FSANZ Fellows 2014–15
|Professor David Fraser
||University of Sydney|
|Associate Professor Winsome Parnell
||Surveys and infant nutrition
||University of Otago|
|Associate Professor Peter Williams
||University of Canberra|
|Professor Ken Buckle
||Food science, processing and microbiology
||University of New South Wales|
|Professor Nigel French
||Molecular epidemiology and risk research
|Professor Stephen Goodall
||University of Technology, Sydney|
|Professor Seppo Salminen
||Intestinal micro biota and health, probiotics and prebiotics, health claims
||University of Turku|
|Assistant Professor Jason Riis
||Experimental psychology and behavioural economics
||Harvard Business School|
|Dr Laurence Eyres
|Dr Heather Greenfield
||University of New South Wales|
|Professor Peter Langridge
||University of Adelaide|
|Professor Brian Priestly
||Health risk assessment
|Professor Murray Skeaff
||University of Otago|
|Professor Mark Tamplin
||Microbiology and food safety
||University of Tasmania|
Engagement with academic institutions
The FSANZ student project program continues to be a successful pathway for FSANZ's engagement with academia. This program provides an opportunity for students to undertake food safety projects relevant to the FSANZ work program. In 2014–15, two students from the University of New South Wales and one from the Australian National University completed projects.
We also engaged with Australian academic institutions through the facilitation of student placements, which are held on-site at FSANZ, where the student attends FSANZ for a four to six week placement and undertakes a project or contributes to the work of FSANZ. We hosted two students from the University of Wollongong.
Regulatory Science Network
FSANZ is currently the chair of the Regulatory Science Network, a network of Australian Government agencies responsible for regulating chemicals (including radioisotopes) and biological agents. The aim of the network is to forge closer links and promote common approaches to regulatory science between the agencies.
During the year, the network contributed to, and participated in, an AVPMA-convened Nanotechnology Symposium in Canberra; convened an inverted pyramid communication workshop in Canberra; assisted in the organisation of a workshop at the 7th Annual Scientific Meeting of the Australasian College of Toxicology and Risk Assessment in Sydney; and convened a major event for regulatory agencies on Doing more with less: how science contributes to smart regulation in Canberra.
Australia New Zealand Science Forum
The Forum provides an opportunity for structured interactions between FSANZ and the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries to consider and collaborate on food regulatory scientific projects, particularly in relation to developing food standards. During the year, the Forum facilitated the sharing of information on key scientific activities and emerging food safety issues, established personal links between members of the agencies, assisted with prioritisation and resource allocation for current projects, and permitted strategic collaboration on work relevant to both agencies.
Codex Alimentarius Commission
The Codex Alimentarius Commission is the international food standards setting body established by the United Nations FAO/WHO. Codex develops international food standards, guidelines and codes of practice for an international food code that contributes to the safety, quality and fairness of food trade.
During the year, we participated in, and led, the Australian Delegation at a number of meetings of Codex committees, as summarised in Table 9.
Table 9: FSANZ participation in the work of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, 2014–15
|37th Session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission
||FSANZ attended as a member of the Australian delegation and contributed to the completion and approval of proposals for new work from the various committees.|
|Codex Committee on Food Labelling
||FSANZ attended as a member of the Australian delegation to support the first time attendance of the delegation lead from the Department of Health. It co-chaired and coordinated the physical working group on date marking, and facilitated the harmonisation with Australia's legislation in this area.|
|36th Session of the Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses
||FSANZ led the Australian delegation to this meeting to represent the Australian Government's views on agenda items. It also presented the results of the electronic working group's (eWG) revision of the Codex nutrient reference values-requirement (NRVs-R) for labelling purposes (batch 2). The eWG was convened by Australia throughout 2014. |
|36th Session of the Codex Committee on Food Hygiene
||FSANZ led the Australian delegation to this meeting. It ensured that Australian input and views on food hygiene matters were understood, and that the Committee's decisions aligned as much as possible with Australia's domestic food policy.|
|79th Meeting of the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA)
||FSANZ was represented by two staff members invited to be on the panel to complete the risk assessments for several new food flavours and food additives. One representative also acted as rapporteur for the WHO group of experts at the meeting and undertook peer review work on some additives and flavours ahead of the meeting. |
|9th Session of the Codex Committee on Contaminants in Food
||FSANZ led the Australian delegation to this meeting. Our role involves liaising with Australian industry, considering exposure levels of the relevant contaminants in the Australian food supply and preparing and presenting the Australian position on the risk management measures appropriate for the control of contaminants. |
|47th Session of the Codex Committee on Food Additives
||FSANZ led the Australian delegation to this meeting, which was attended in China by 51 countries and 32 international organisations. Australia chaired the Committee's work on the endorsement, and the alignment of food additive provisions in Codex Commodity Standards with the General Standard for Food Additives.|
World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Food Contamination Monitoring
FSANZ is a World Health Organization Collaborating Centre (WHO CC) for food contamination monitoring, and carries out several activities to support WHO programs.
For the 2014–15 reporting period, FSANZ submitted updates on all actions relevant to the three specified activity areas, including updates on the 24th and 25th Australian Total Diet Studies. Information was also provided on the Australia and New Zealand Coordinated Food Survey Plan under the Food Regulation Standing Committee's (FRSC) Implementation Subcommittee for Food Regulation (ISFR).
FSANZ has maintained its active partnership with Health Canada. A close working relationship has also been maintained with other WHO CC members such as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Hong Kong Centre for Food Safety and the UK Food Standards Agency.
International food safety liaison groups
FSANZ continues to be an active member in the International Microbial Food Safety Liaison Group. The group meets via teleconference at least twice a year to share information on contemporary food safety issues and is an extremely useful forum to leverage international experiences and expertise.
Topics of discussion varied widely, including the risk of transmission of Ebola virus via food, anisakids (parasitic worms) in raw fish, Campylobacter in chicken meat and raw drinking milk. The utility of this group was evident most recently in providing information during the recent hepatitis A virus in frozen berries incident.
We also shared information with the International Food Chemicals Safety Liaison Group on the issue of 3-monochloro-1,2- propanediol (3-MCPD) esters and glycidyl esters (GEs) occurring in some foods from the refining process for oils and fats. The toxicology of these substances is uncertain and is the subject of a global research effort.
We have been monitoring the research through this collaboration and through bilateral contacts with other overseas regulatory agencies. We also visited an Australian manufacturing plant to investigate the management of 3-MCPD ester levels and have undertaken ongoing liaison with the infant formula industry on survey activities.
International behavioural and regulatory analysis groups
FSANZ continued to draw on key domestic and international expertise in applying the economic and behavioural sciences to our regulatory practice.
The Social Sciences and Economics Advisory Group, comprising Australian and New Zealand academics, acted as the primary source of review and challenge to the academic rigour of our work.
The International Social Sciences Liaison Group and the Food Safety Regulatory Economics Working Group—both chaired by FSANZ—provided input from, and exchange among, agency-based economists and social scientists from international risk agencies. Both these groups include regulators from the United States of America, Canada, United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia. In 2013–14, membership of the Food Safety Regulatory Economics Working Group was expanded to include regulators from South Korea and Ireland.
Relationships in the Asia-Pacific region
The APEC Food Safety Cooperation Forum (FSCF) is a collaboration of food safety regulators, from the 21 APEC member economies. FSCF is co-Chaired by FSANZ (on behalf of Australia) and the People's Republic of China (General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine).
In September 2015, FSANZ actively participated in the APEC High-Level Regulator Industry Dialogue on Food Safety, where a range of senior industry and regulatory representatives agreed to a number of recommendations to enhance action between regulators and industry to address food safety challenges and build on good regulatory practices.
In 2014–15 FSANZ applied for and successfully obtained funding under the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's Economic Diplomacy Fund program. The funding is being used to advance the FSCF Regulatory Cooperation Roadmap in the areas of pesticide maximum residue limits (MRLs), which FSANZ leads. The aim of the project is to develop a guideline, through expert workshops, on the harmonisation of pesticide MRLs for imported foods in APEC member economies. The first expert workshop on pesticide MRLs was held in Sydney in April, involving delegates from 16 APEC member economies.
During the year, FSANZ (on behalf of Australia in the primary secretariat role) liaised with the Chilean Agency for Food Quality and Safety (ACHIPIA) to hand over the secretariat role for the Food Safety Incident Network (FSIN) for the next two years. This handover came into effect in March 2015.
From left: Ms Nicole Bailey (National Association of Testing Authorities), Mr Steve McCutcheon (CEO, FSANZ), Dr Marion Healy (Deputy CEO, FSANZ), Dr Geoffrey Annison (Australian Food and Grocery Council), Ms Carol Bate (Fonterra) and Dr Scott Crerar (General Manager, FSANZ).
Monitoring food hazards
Implementation Subcommittee for Food Regulation Surveillance and Monitoring Working Group
FSANZ is chair of the ISFR Surveillance and Monitoring Working Group, a group that formally replaced the Food Surveillance Network in 2014. This working group is an effective forum for jurisdictions in Australia and New Zealand to discuss, plan and implement strategic food monitoring and surveillance activities. The working group proposes joint monitoring and surveillance work of national and bi-national significance on a yearly basis and implements these activities through its three-year, forward-looking Coordinated Food Survey Plan.
In 2015, three FSANZ activities of the Coordinated Food Survey Plan were completed:
- coordinated survey for trans-fatty acids in Australian foods
- two reports on the impact of mandatory fortification with folic acid and iodine on the nutrient content of bread.
Australian Total Diet Study
Australia's most comprehensive assessment of consumers' dietary exposure (intake) to pesticide residues, contaminants and other substances is the Australian Total Diet Study (ATDS). Through this major study, conducted every two to three years, FSANZ monitors the national food supply to ensure that existing food regulatory measures adequately protect consumer health and safety.
The 24th ATDS involved the analysis of 81 Australian foods and beverages in two phases. The first phase (published early 2014) analysed acrylamide, aluminium and perchlorates. The second phase focused on food packaging chemicals, including: bisphenol A (BPA), epoxidised soy bean oil (ESBO), phthalates, perfluorinated compounds and printing inks. This phase is now complete and the final report is under review, with the expectation it will be published later in 2015.
The 25th ATDS, which is investigating the concentrations of metal contaminants, agricultural and veterinary chemicals and radionuclides in Australian foods, is ongoing. Analytical results have been received and are currently being reviewed.
Heavy metals in shelf-stable fruit
In 2015, we conducted a survey of domestic and imported shelf-stable peach, pear and apricot (in cans, tubs or snack packs) for concentrations of arsenic, lead and tin. The survey analysed 37 supermarket products and eight catering products. A report is currently being prepared for publication.
Food incident response capability
The National Food Safety Network was established by ISFR in 2014 to routinely share and assess information and determine, as appropriate, subsequent actions. FSANZ provides a coordination role for the Network, which involves all members of the health, agriculture and food agencies in ISFR. In 2014–15, the Network was used 12 times. A recent example was the engagement with consumer protection regulators, including the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), about the sale of raw milk to consumers.
To enhance response arrangements, FSANZ and the NSW Food Authority hosted a National Food Safety Incident Response workshop in November 2014 for industry and government to discuss the management frameworks for food incidents. Food incidents can occur at any point in the supply chain and involve producers, processors, wholesalers and retailers. Having through-chain participation in the workshop ensured a rewarding outcome, including various options for improving the response process.
Internationally, FSANZ has maintained close contact with our international partners and has been an active participant in the FAO/WHO led, International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN).
In the event that an unsafe food finds its way into the marketplace, the Australian jurisdictions, FSANZ and food businesses collaborate to withdraw that food from sale or, if already sold, to ask consumers to return the product to the place of purchase.
Statistics for 2014–15
FSANZ coordinated 58 food recalls in 2014–15 (66 in 2013–14) (Figure 1). The recalls were mainly due to undeclared allergens (Figure 2) and microbial contamination, predominantly for Listeria monocytogenes (Figure 3).
Figure 1: Number of food recalls coordinated by FSANZ in 2014–15, by recall category
Figure 2: Reasons for undeclared allergen recalls in 2014–15
Figure 3: Reasons for microbial contamination recalls in 2014–15
FSANZ, with the assistance of a food industry consultant, has developed a guide for food businesses to develop a food recall plan. The guide has been designed to assist small-to-medium sized businesses (SMEs) by providing a ready-to-use recall shell indicating the steps to be taken by a business when a recall is necessary.
State and territory government officers are now trialling the document with SMEs in their jurisdictions. Once the trials have been completed and the final comments have been addressed, we will publically release this guide on our website in 2015–16.
We released two infographics about recalls, with both available online. One outlines the number of recalls in 2014 and why the food was being recalled. The other infographic explains how the food industry and government work together during a food recall.
Mandatory reporting and the potential repeal of legislation
Mandatory reporting requirements came into effect on 1 January 2011 under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. Under the provisions in the Act, all participants in the supply chain of a consumer good, which has been associated with a death, serious injury or illness, are required to provide a written report to the ACCC within two days of becoming aware of the incident. FSANZ simultaneously receives copies of these mandatory reports for national monitoring and reporting purposes.
To date, FSANZ has received approximately 5,000 mandatory reports.
FSANZ receives monthly feedback from most state and territory food enforcement agencies on actions and outcomes they have taken on the mandatory reports referred to them from the ACCC. In most cases, the reports have been adequately investigated by the company without intervention by an enforcement agency. In only a very small number of cases has the enforcement agency determined that the company needed to take further action.
The Commonwealth Minister for Small Business introduced the Competition and Consumer Amendment (Deregulatory and Other Measures) Bill 2015 in the House of Representatives on 18 March 2015. This Bill included a recommendation to remove the requirement for businesses to report serious injuries, illnesses or deaths associated with food products under the ACL's product safety law.
If the Bill passes both houses of parliament, the mandatory reporting requirement will not apply to foods supplied on or after the day after the Competition and Consumer Amendment (Deregulatory and Other Measures) Bill 2015 receives royal assent.