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Antimicrobials (including antibiotics) in food

​​​​​​​(Last updated: July 2021)

Antimicrobials can kill or slow the growth of microbes (in particular bacteria, fungi and viruses) that cause diseases. Antibiotics are the most commonly prescribed antimicrobial for humans.

Antimicrobials also can be used by primary producers and farmers to keep their animals healthy. As a result, very low levels of antimicrobial residues may be present in some of the foods we eat. Standard 1.4.2 and Schedule 20 of the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code lists the maximum limits for antimicrobial residues in food. Food can't be sold if it contains residues above these limits. Regular tests show antimicrobial residues rarely exceed these limits.

Antimicrobials save lives every day, but there are signs some microbes are becoming resistant to them. Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is recognised globally as one of the biggest threats to human and animal health today. In Australia, the Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE), along with other agencies including Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), have put in place a coordinated strategy to limit the development of AMR. The National Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy guides action by governments, and the human and animal health, agriculture and food sectors, to tackle AMR. ​

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