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The New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) is conducting a study aimed at helping growers continue to produce safe fruit and vegetables and avoid the problems with bacterial contamination that have hit the fresh produce industry overseas, according to FoodTechnology.co.nz.

The report says NZFSA’s study will look at how water and natural fertilisers – such as manures, biosolids, and compost – are used by the horticultural industry; how growers control contaminants from these sources so they are not transferred onto fresh produce.

NZFSA specialist advisor, Marion Castle says a significant part of the study will be talking with growers face-to-face about their current practices. Information from growers will contribute to future risk profiles and guidance materials.

The study looks at organic and conventionally grown fresh produce. It will focus on fresh produce intended to be consumed raw, or as a raw dried or semi-dried product.

“Cooking at high enough temperatures for long enough to kill pathogens will prevent most foodborne illness. However, lots of fruit and vegetables are used without further cooking – for example in a salad or eaten as cut-up fruit – so any pathogens that are present at high numbers could make people sick,” Marion says.

While anyone can get sick from foodborne pathogens, the most at-risk population groups are infants, the elderly, pregnant women, and people whose immunity is weakened by diseases such as cancer or HIV.

Despite last month’s widely publicised recall of Listeria-contaminated baby spinach, fresh produce-related food safety issues are rare in New Zealand. The few instances of reported produce-related food safety outbreaks include an outbreak of Hepatitis A associated with raw blueberries in 2002. In 2005 consumption of raw carrots was identified as the probable cause of an outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul.

In 2009 NZFSA conducted a survey of illness-causing bacteria in fresh ready-to-eat fruit and vegetables at retail. The survey indicated a very low level of contamination in New Zealand produce, and pathogens were only detected in two of 900 samples. Both were Salmonella contaminated lettuces from the same grower.

— Source: FoodTechnology.co.nz

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