Focus on Australian Citrus Safety

Jim Rogers Citrus, Export/Import, Food Safety, International

Citrus Australia reported on a new project focused on food safety in citrus. The project aims to mitigate microbial food-safety risks associated with the production, postharvest handling and supply of citrus to consumers in domestic and export markets. S.P. Singh with the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries will lead the project.

The Australian citrus industry exports oranges and mandarins worth half a billion dollars to the major Asian markets. The success of citrus exports is built on free trade agreements and the clean, green and safe reputation of the industry.

“‘Healthy, nutritious and safe’ is the unique selling point that the Australian citrus industry promotes in its marketing campaigns,” Singh said. “However, the industry needs to be proactive in maintaining the confidence of consumers, regulators and trading partners in the quality and safety of their fruit to ensure the market access is retained and new markets are created.

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“Due to the inedible peel, citrus fruit presents a relatively lower microbial food-safety risk to consumers,” Singh added. “However, any detection of microbial contaminants on the fruit poses a potential ‘trade risk’ and could trigger a non-tariff barrier. Given the current volatility in export markets due to various geopolitical reasons, this risk is significant.”

Singh and his team will engage with citrus growers and packers in all major production regions to collect data and information about industry practices on food safety. This information will deliver a national snapshot of the industry practice and identify potential gaps to be addressed in the short, medium and long term.

The project will verify food-safety practices and detect potential hotspots for microbial contamination and cross-contamination along the supply chain. Each link within the supply chain will be examined, starting with field production, postharvest processing and distribution through to retail.

With the voluntary participation of citrus growers and packers, fruit and environmental samples will be collected from all primary production and supply regions to detect the target foodborne bacterial pathogens.

Singh said there are some unanswered questions on the ability of foodborne bacterial pathogens to survive and multiply during cold treatment for phytosanitary purposes and other supply-chain scenarios in export and domestic markets. The project will investigate the survival and persistence of the key foodborne bacterial pathogens (such as Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes) on various types and varieties of citrus fruit under simulated supply-chain conditions.

The influence of critical postharvest conditions (such as storage temperature, cold phytosanitary treatment and shelf life) affecting the pathogen survival will be investigated. “The experimental data and industry’s food-safety practice information will form the basis for developing a scientific evidence-based Best Practice Guide for the industry to understand and manage these risks effectively,” Singh said.

More information about the project is available from Singh.

Source: Citrus Australia

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