Workshop on how to keep our fresh food safe

The Centre and United Fresh ran a well-attended and practical food safety science workshop in Auckland on 12 March.

In her presentation, Centre director Dr Catherine McLeod made the point that, “preventing an outbreak is far cheaper than recovering from one.” The whole purpose of the Centre is risk reduction, and elimination where possible, she said. Dr McLeod and Centre Chief Scientist, Professor Nigel French, had many salutary lessons from international and domestic foodborne disease outbreaks.

One of the main contamination risks is actually people. Lack of hygiene facilities, as well as contaminated irrigation water, were implicated in a significant outbreak of Hepatitis A from raw blueberries in 2002.

Catherine emphasised the need to make sure that there are the best possible handwashing facilities in orchards, packing houses, and indeed any food harvesting or preparation workplace. Lots of clean water, soap, and paper towels. ALL staff should be well trained in, and regularly reminded of, the correct handwashing technique. If there are language barriers with overseas staff, it’s a good idea to show them what to do and how long it takes to wash your hands properly.

Potential contamination of irrigation water, and the water used to rinse fresh produce, is another main concern. Pathogens in irrigation water, such as E.coli and Salmonella, can be absorbed into the interior of plants, which means that washing the surface will not always get rid of them. Fresh produce that is consumed raw generally poses a higher risk than produce that is cooked before consumption. This means that it is imperative for our industry to continue implementing the highest standards of hygiene and ensuring water is safe, throughout the supply chain.

Catherine said that many of the Centre’s research projects underway are to do with assessing pathogens in the supply chain.

The presentations by Catherine and Nigel are here.

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