Guest Blog: Getting prepared for a food safety incident

21 Aug 2019 Guest Blog: Getting prepared for a food safety incident image

With Mike on leave, Deputy Chief Executive, Leanne Stewart has contributed this week's blog.

The safety of the fresh fruit and vegetables commercially grown by our horticulture industry is critical to the wellbeing of our domestic and international consumers, and our reputation as a safe food producing country.

Like other food producing industries in New Zealand, we need to ensure we have preventative food safety measures in place to manage risk to an appropriate level. Like biosecurity, we know that we cannot eliminate risk completely, however, we can identify the main hazards and put steps in place to prevent food illness, contamination and tampering.

In the preventative space, we have fantastic schemes like NZGAP that help prevent food safety issues, but when something goes wrong, we need to be able to respond rapidly to protect human health and minimise the impact on industry.

This is where we find ourselves now. We have the beauty of hindsight and can learn from local and overseas incidents, to develop a protocol and guidance so we know what to do when faced with a food safety issue.

We’ve learned are that our number one priority is to protect consumers from risk and that communication is paramount! Industry and government working together is essential to coordinate risk management, and keep growers and the public appropriately informed. Our focus therefore needs to be on risk awareness for early detection, ability to effectively trace products, and communication planning.

HortNZ, together with the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) and other government agencies like Health and Police, is committed to preparing to respond to food safety incidents. Currently, government/industry response guidance for food safety incidents doesn’t exist across the food sectors in New Zealand. To remedy this, HortNZ has been working with MPI to scope a project for the development of a food incident response protocol and guidance.

A combined government and industry working group will be formed to assist MPI in developing this guidance, which can be used across the food sector. Representatives from the food sector and government agencies will be invited to submit expressions of interest to join the working group.

If this is something you’re interested in being involved in, please get in touch with me and I’ll pass your details on to MPI.

Once we have a protocol and guidance, we’ll test it next year by running a food incident exercise. This will help raise awareness of what’s involved in responding to an incident and make sure the protocol and guidance are fit for purpose.

Having learned from past food safety incidents, it is important we look forward to enhancing our preparedness for managing an incident to minimise the impact on our growers, consumers and New Zealand’s reputation.

Leanne Stewart, Deputy Chief Executive