The AIFST's Toolbox Talk on 5 April 2017 will provide an overview of the FSANZ Compendium. This is a valuable opportunity for small and medium food businesses to gather knowledge and information on the Compendium and how it may impact your operations.

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Dr Malik Hussain is a food technologist and  microbiologist. He is a Senior Science and Technical Officer at NSW Food Authority Australia and also holds the position of Adjunct Senior Lecturer at Lincoln University New Zealand. His areas of expertise include food safety, microbiological risk assessment and microbial biotechnology.

 

Ensuring the microbiological safety of the food supply has become a global challenge. It must be acknowledged that we are surrounded by microorganisms all the time. The presence of microbial populations almost everywhere provides plenty of opportunities for food products to be contaminated when they travel “from farm to fork”. Many microorganisms including pathogens are naturally present in food sources; for example, the intestines, hides, feathers and faeces of healthy food animals. Plant and plant-based foods can get contaminated through irrigation water, poorly composted manure, workers, wild animals, insects, and soil. Therefore, management of microbiological food safety is important to protect consumer from hazardous foods.

Background of the Compendium

An important step to ensure a food product does not pose a health risk to the consumer is to define microbiological limits, in particular for pathogens. Internationally, Codex Alimentarius standards and ICMSF microbiological specifications for foods are important reference guidelines for food safety management. Nationally, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) published the Compendium of Microbiological Criteria for Food in October 2016 to provide microbiological guidelines for the production and supply of safe foods.   

Scope and use of the information

The Compendium contains defined microbiological criteria to assist in decision making process about the safety of a food or process based on microbiological analyses. For regulators, the microbiological criteria are useful to determine the food safety status of food as well as to verify the process control and hygiene measures. For food businesses, it serves as a guiding tool to manage overall food safety for raw material to packaging procurement, operations to hygienic practices, and finish product release to sale at retail outlets. Information on foodborne pathogens, indicator organisms, microbiological criteria, process hygiene criteria, testing methods and control measures can be found in the Compendium.    

Impact on small businesses

Now it is common practice that producers and retailers source materials from around the world or use imported ingredients to manufacture or sell consumer food products. Thus, the challenge of ensuring the microbiological safety and quality of the food supply has emerged as a practical issue. This means microbiological testing of ingredients and/or the finished product is a practice that will become a common routine. The testing is regulatory requirement for certain products including ready-to-eat foods, infant formula products, chicken meat and dairy. It will become mandatory to have microbiological testing data available for regulatory verification purpose if a small business manufactures high risk food products or supply foods to vulnerable persons service sector. Regulatory implementation of microbiological criteria across different food sectors could impact small businesses in many ways such as increasing the operational costs to manage food safety program and microbiological analysis of food and environment samples.