FSANZ coordinates the Bi–National Food Safety Network, a mechanism for national coordination and early information sharing and communication on food incidents between government agencies.
The network includes all Australian state and territory food enforcement agencies, the Australian Government Department of Health, the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries. During 2018–19 fourteen issues were referred to the network, including Listeria in frozen vegetables from Belgium, Salmonella Enteritidis in eggs and the strawberry tampering incident.
There were 106 food recalls coordinated by FSANZ from 1 July 2018–30 June 2019 (Figure 1). The recalls were mainly due to undeclared allergens and microbial contamination (Figure 2)
Figure 1: Number of recalls by month (1 July 2018–30 June 2019)
Figure 2: Reason for recalls (1 July 2018–30 June 2019)
Undeclared allergen recall statistics
In March 2019, FSANZ created an additional webpage for new undeclared allergen statistics including information on the root cause, problem detection and corrective actions. The data was collected by adding root cause analysis questions in the post-recall report. The information was first collected in August 2016.
FSANZ identified four key causes of allergen-related recalls, including lack of skills and knowledge of labelling requirements, supplier verification, packaging errors and accidental cross contamination.
There were 33 undeclared allergen recalls in 2016 (46%), 34 (49%) in 2017, and 46 (46%) in 2018. In the last three years, customer complaints were the most common method of detecting the need to recall food due to allergens, followed by routine testing by the company and then routine government testing. Detection by customer complaints and routine testing by the company has increased since 2016.
Packaging errors are the leading cause of undeclared allergen recalls. The exception to this was in 2016 when supplier verification issues were the leading cause. Unknown causes can be due to the food business not being able to determine the root cause or FSANZ did not receive any post- recall information from the business following their recall.
FSANZ is Australia’s Emergency Contact Point for the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN), a global network under the World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization. As the Emergency Contact Point we are responsible for reporting food safety events of potential international significance to the INFOSAN Secretariat. In 2018‒19 FSANZ reported three food safety events to INFOSAN relating to Listeria in frozen vegetables from Belgium and Listeria in white mould cheeses from France. FSANZ is also a contact point for the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF). RASFF is a tool to exchange information between EU Member States on serious risks associated with food or feed that has been imported into Australia. In 2018–19 FSANZ reported fourteen food safety events to states and territories following RASFF notifications. These notifications included border rejections and unauthorised substances, undeclared allergen detections and biotoxin, chemical and microbial contaminations.
In response to a strawberry tampering incident in September 2018 FSANZ was asked by the Minister for Health, the Hon Greg Hunt, to ‘… investigate whether there are supply chain weaknesses, whether there are actions we can take to assist the police, whether there are systemic changes which are required’.
After consulting with government and industry stakeholders FSANZ published its report in October 2018. The report summarises:
measures taken by food regulatory agencies, the police and industry in response to the incident
issues identified by food regulatory agencies, police and industry stakeholders about supply chain vulnerabilities, response procedures and communications
recommendations arising from these meetings to improve current arrangements.
Key recommendations focused on the need for improved communication during incidents, particularly those involving criminal matters.
The report also provides general background information on Australia’s national incident response framework, strawberry production and related industry bodies in Australia.
After publishing the report FSANZ held the joint debrief with industry, government and police representatives in May 2019. The purpose of the debrief was to reflect on the incident and confirm what systemic changes may be required to address future events. Feedback on this debrief has been provided to Government.
Monitoring and surveillance
Analysis of nutrients in foods
We commissioned the laboratory analysis of 34 foods to strengthen the quality and robustness of our nutrient food composition data holdings. The analyses focussed on foods which contribute significantly to the Australian population nutrient intake and for which our current data holdings were outdated or non-existent.
Australian Total Diet Study
FSANZ’s Australian Total Diet Study (ATDS) is the most comprehensive ongoing monitoring survey of the Australian food supply. It investigates Australian consumers’ dietary exposure to agricultural and veterinary chemicals, metal contaminants and other substances. The ATDS provides a scientific evidence base to allow FSANZ to assess and monitor the safety of the Australian food supply and ensure the continued effectiveness of food regulatory measures.
The 25th ATDS, which investigated agricultural and veterinary chemicals and various metal contaminants, was published at the end of June 2019. Sampling and analysis of samples for the 26th ATDS, focusing on dioxins and dioxin–like compounds, was also completed this year.
On request from the Food Regulation Standing Committee, FSANZ is planning for the 27th ATDS which will investigate the dietary exposure of the general Australian population to per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances.