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Food borne illness in Australia falling except salmonella which is increasing
Despite more than four million Australians getting sick from contaminated food each year, the overall national rate of food poisoning is falling.
Except, that is, when it comes to salmonella.
A glance at Victoria’s Department of Health figures for example, shows a 50 per cent increase in salmonella in poisoning since 2012.
Queensland has seen a doubling of salmonella poisoning cases in the past 12 months.
Salmonella can be found in soil and water, and multiplies rapidly if food is not handled properly, including washing and refrigeration.
It is one of the reasons the independent Fresh Produce Safety Centre Australia New Zealand has released new guidelines for everyone involved in food to try to lift standards.
The case of Hepatitis A in frozen in frozen berries imported by Patties Foods focussed attention on food safety and experts agree it was preventable.
“It made 30 people ill. It could have had significantly greater impact if it wasn’t nipped in the bud as it was,” said Richard Bennett, technology manager for the Fresh Produce Safety Centre and the Fresh Produce Marketing Australia New Zealand.
“Salmonella certainly, according to Department of Health, is one of the few areas of food-borne illness that’s increasing.
“Overall, despite more coverage, food borne illness is declining, from 4.3 million cases a year in 2000 to 4.1 million cases in 2010.
“Our supply chains have become more complex, our meal solutions have become a lot more complex. It’s not just chops and three veg as it used to be.
“Shelf life is stretched to the limit.
“It’s across all food items, and Australian consumers can expect to fall ill from food contamination every four or five years on average due to contaminated food.”
On its first anniversary, the Australian Fresh Produce Safety Centre Australia, New Zealand in Sydney has launched new guidelines to make growing and handling food safer.
“Our aim was to reinvigorate the safety, to give it greater focus, make information available to industry.
“It is a combination of the best knowledge, experience and research pulled together in one document, applies through the supply chain, from farm to retail, and trans-Tasman, with Australian and New Zealand expertise.
“Industry put this as their Number One priority for what we actually needed.”
Mr Bennett said food safety had nothing to do with Country of Origin labelling.
“The food standards code applies equally to domestically produced food as imported food,” he said.
“They are the same set of standards, no matter where it’s from.
Microbes not chemicals causing problems
“The public perception of the main risk is pesticide or chemical contamination, but the main threat is microbial contamination,” said Joseph Ekman, technical director of the private fruit company, grower and distributor Fresh Produce Group.
Mr Ekman helped develop the food safety guidelines.
“We’re seeing an increased compliance on chemical use, and growers are more diligent,” he said.
“The main threat is microbial contamination because it can grow and multiply through the supply chain.”
Mr Ekman said the guidelines did not add red tape for food producers.
“If there’s a food safety issue, it doesn’t just affect all growers, not just one retailer or grower. Consumers get the message that that product is risky,” he said.
It is thought that consumption of frozen berries in Australia is now 30 per cent of where it was when Hep A struck earlier this year.
“While salmonella bacteria are most commonly associated with livestock and chickens, they have also been responsible for food safety outbreaks associated with fresh produce,” says the new Food Safety Guideline.
“Large numbers are shed in the faeces of infected humans and other animals both before and after symptoms of disease.
“In most cases, gastroenteritis symptoms are relatively mild, including cramps, nausea and diarrhoea, although severe disease and even septicaemia can occur in susceptible individuals.”
Published by the ABC Rural, 12/08/2015