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Food standards in production and processing

Food standards are set by Food Standard Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), a statutory authority within the Australian Government’s health portfolio.  Traditionally, food standards determine how food can be processed, treated and preserved, what additives are allowed etc.  In addition, the chicken meat industry complies with a range of standards and codes of practice aimed at ensuring that the ultimate product is safe and was produced in line with all the requirements of animal welfare, occupational health and safety and food safety.  These standards can be accessed from the Resource Material section of this web site.

New food standards to cover production as well as processing

COAG decided in 2003 that FSANZ should develop a set of new standards for livestock industries which should be outcome based, cover production as well as processing, and implemented consistently across all jurisdictions (note that food safety laws are a matter for States and thus while FSANZ develops national standards, the legislative implementation of these standards is through state legislation).

Timing of implementation

FSANZ first developed a so-called production and processing food standard for the seafood industry.  Poultry meat was next and the Poultry Meat Production and Processing Standard was gazetted on 20 May 2010, to be implemented by all jurisdictions by 20 May 2012.  An egg standard is currently being developed and a dairy standard has been finalised.  Other sectors will be tackled over coming years.

What do the new food safety standards cover?

The basic aim of food standards is to ensure that all food offered to consumers is safe to eat.  As indicated above, past standards concerned the processing of food rather than growing it.  Of course, some existing regulations applying to the growing of food, in particular those regulating the use of veterinary and plant chemicals, are at least in part aimed at ensuring the food that is grown is safe to eat and has no unacceptable residue.  The “through chain” production and processing standards take this further and look at other risk factors in the growing phase that could make the food unsafe for consumption. 

Risk analysis as first step

The first step in this process is the analysis of potential risks and the identification of significant risk factors.  In the case of poultry meat, the two risk factors identified as significant by FSANZ are contamination of chicken meat with Salmonella bacteria or Campylobacter bacteria.  These bacteria occur naturally and generally do not affect the health of poultry.  However some specific strains can, if consumed by people, cause food poisoning. 

Measures to control identified risks

Chicken must always be cooked right through.  Why? Because it tastes better but also because this will ensure that any bacteria that may be on the meat is destroyed (and therefore cannot cause food poisoning).  Nevertheless, not all food is stored, handled and prepared correctly (see also our food handling and storage tips).  Undercooked poultry meat or mincemeat can be a problem.  Also, cross-contamination between raw meat and food that is consumed raw (e.g. salads) or is already cooked (e.g. placing cooked meat back on tray used for the raw meat) is always a possibility.  For this reason, it is an important goal of the industry, reflected in the FSANZ standard, to minimize the contamination of poultry meat with Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria.  Much of this control happens in the processing plant: careful removal of the gut/intestine to avoid any spillage (Campylobacter is a common gut bacteria); and multiple washers and sprayers along the processing line to wash off any contaminants from the carcase.

What is new?

Process control and food standards in processing plants are nothing new.  What is new is that the food standard now also specifies measures to be taken on farm during the raising of poultry to ensure the contamination of birds with Salmonella and Campylobacter when arriving at the processing plant are as low as possible.  Obviously the lower the contamination at the beginning of the processing line, the easier the task of minimizing contaminants on carcases at the end of the processing line.

While this aspect is new in terms of its coverage by the new FSANZ standard, the measures required to limit contamination of poultry with Salmonella and Campylobacter are far from new.  In essence, the measures that are recommended for food safety reasons are identical to those implemented for animal health reasons, i.e. to prevent animal diseases to enter farms or to spread between sheds or farms.  These measures are generally referred to as biosecurity measures.  The chicken meat industry developed its first national farm biosecurity manual back in 2002 and most chicken currently produced in Australia are raised under strict biosecurity controls.  To view the most up-to-date National Farm Biosecurity Manual, click here.

Legal requirements now and in the future

As part of the industry’s agreement with the Commonwealth and the States regarding emergency animal diseases, growers are already required to have these biosecurity measures in place.  Now with the new FSANZ standard being implemented through state legislation, there will be an additional reason for these measures to be maintained.

The FSANZ Poultry Meat standard is quite general.  It requires chicken farms to have a food safety management system in place.  This is essentially a documented system identifying the areas of risk such as rodents, water, movement of people and machinery on and off the farm, feed etc and what measure are in place to minimize these risks.

Implementation steps

ACMF and ACGC have been working with an implementation group of state regulators to develop a template for this food safety management plan to make sure that implementation of this additional requirement is as painless as possible.  In many cases, all that will be required is formalizing current biosecurity practices which will also meet the food safety concerns.  In other cases, certain aspects of biosecurity may have to be brought in line more clearly with the Farm Biosecurity Manual for Chicken Growers.  In April 2011, a pro-forma Food Safety Management Plan  for Poultry Producers producing chickens under contract to a processor was adopted as an acceptable basis by regulators, growers and processors.  This document should assist individual growers to comply with the legal requirements to become effective in each State and Territory on 20 May 2012.  By that date, each farm will have to have an agreed Food Safety Management Plan setting out the way the biosecurity requirements are being met and how compliance will be demonstrated (i.e. what records will be kept to show compliance).  More details on implementation is available for Members by clicking here.

Growers and processors will have to work together to ensure that these new requirements are met, particularly since in our industry the responsibilities during the production are shared between the contract chicken growers and the processors.  The new requirements will become a formal legal requirement two years after the standard’s gazettal, i.e. 20 May 2012.

Will there be any training and assistance for chicken growers?

It is our intention to first establish a streamlined system of implementation, documentation and reporting in consultation with state regulators.  Individual processors may then fine-tune these requirements to fit as easily as possible into the current arrangements so that the individual grower will only have to consider how the template food safety management system needs to be adapted to reflect its specific circumstances.  Of course, any areas of biosecurity not currently meeting the national manual’s requirements will have to be upgraded.

We plan to offer training workshops for growers through the RIRDC Chicken Meat Program now that the initial implementation work has been undertaken.

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