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Strawberry tampering incident

 

Full Report PDF | Word

Executive summary

Food safety is of fundamental importance to Australia and confidence in the food that people consume is crucial.  Food safety incidents such as the one discussed in this report can result in public health and safety risks as well as widespread consumer concern and large negative impacts to the Australian food industry including significant costs due to recalls and disruption to business. Such incidents can also negatively impact the trust and reputation of Australian products in international trade.

This report on the tampering of Australian strawberries in September 2018 has been produced by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) in response to a request by the Minister for Health the Hon Greg Hunt MP. This request was '…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'.

In completing this report, FSANZ consulted with government and industry stakeholders.

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.

The report also provides general background information on Australia's national incident response framework, strawberry production and related industry bodies in Australia.

While governments' response to this food incident was timely in protecting public health, government and industry stakeholders have identified several key areas for improvement. These include centralising incident coordination functions to encompass all relevant government agencies including police, and improving the consistency and messaging of incident communication. The investigation revealed a complex supply chain and strengthened traceability measures and contingency planning in the strawberry industry (and other high-risk horticulture) are needed. Mitigation strategies to protect food against intentional contamination need to be informed by a vulnerability assessment which includes the severity and scale of the potential impact plus the degree of access to the product at different stages of the supply chain. 

The following recommendations are made:

  • All jurisdictions should review their food incident response protocols - in particular ensuring that formal linkages between regulators, health departments and police are in place for incidents involving intentional contamination.
  • When a food tampering incident occurs across jurisdictions, a central agency should be engaged to ensure national coordination of messaging and information associated with the incident.
  • Police should be included in national food incident debriefs when intentional food tampering is involved.
  • Triggers for activation and management of intentional contamination of food under the National Food Incident Response Protocol (NFIRP) should be reviewed by the food regulatory system. 
  • A representative body for the horticulture industry is required to support crisis preparedness and response in the sector.
  • Traceability measures within the horticulture sector need to be strengthened. Government and industry should work together to map the current state of play and identify options and tools for enhancing traceability.
  • Work on traceability should include collaboration with research bodies and other stakeholders to evaluate technical and innovative solutions to improve quality assurance throughout the supply chain.

FSANZ will convene a joint debrief (industry/jurisdictions/police) of the strawberry tampering incident in the first half of 2019 to further reflect on the incident and confirm what systemic changes may be required.  This will link in with current work being carried out by FSANZ and jurisdictions on the national food regulation system.  Feedback on this debrief will be provided to Government.

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