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On-farm food safety practices survey of strawberry growing in Victoria

(July 2016)

Executive summary

In 2013, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) proposed a primary production and processing standard (PPPS) for horticulture. However, after consultation in February 2014, FSANZ assessed the Proposal and decided to abandon it in favour of a non-regulatory approach. In abandoning the Proposal, FSANZ undertook to further investigate food safety initiatives in horticulture with a view to developing a non-regulatory approach.
 
Non-regulatory industry-based food safety schemes have been developed for the horticulture sector in Australia and implemented widely. However there are no nationally consistent food safety regulatory requirements on the primary production of horticultural produce. This is unlike the situation in other primary production sectors such as meat, poultry, dairy, eggs and seafood that have standards in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code.
 
For a non-regulatory approach to succeed, growers’ knowledge of microbiological contamination and their ability to manage the risks is important in delivering a safe product to consumers. There is currently little data about the knowledge, attitudes and practices of growers regarding microbiological contamination of horticultural produce for on-farm and processing activities in Australia. An understanding of contemporary practices, skills and food safety knowledge of growers may identify a need for new or updated guidance.
 
To understand the current grower and on-farm information gaps, the Victorian Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources (DEDJTR) and FSANZ undertook a survey of Victorian strawberry growers in the Yarra Valley during the 2014/15 growing season. The Yarra Valley is where 75% of the States strawberry farms are located. The Victorian strawberry industry was selected for the survey as unprocessed ready-to-eat products, such as strawberries, are considered by food safety professionals as high-risk for food borne illness if they are not grown and handled under systems of good agricultural and hygienic practice. Also DEDJTR has an existing relationship with the industry. The survey was included in the Implementation Subcommittee for Food Regulation (ISFR) coordinated food survey plan (CFSP)[1] and aimed to:
  • collect information regarding the on-farm practices and production activities that contribute to the production of safe horticultural produce;
  • use the faecal indicator organism E. coli as an indicator of hygienic practices to identify any unmanaged or poorly managed risks as potential targets for guidance; and
  • report the survey findings to ISFR.

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