IFN 01-16 – Food safety requirements for importing berries

Issued: 17 February 2016

Supersedes: IFN02-15 Producer must be declared for berries imported from China, IFN03-15 Targeted border intervention of berries from China, IFN11-15 Requirements for imported ready-to-eat berries, IFN12-15 Targeted border intervention of frozen ready-to-eat raspberries from Serbia

Purpose

The purpose of this notice is to advise industry of the ongoing monitoring of imported berries including responsibility of the importing industry to ensure imported food is safe and compliant with Australia’s food standards and that the producer of imported berries from all countries must be declared from 1 March 2016.

Hepatitis A links to frozen berries – background

In early 2015 there were 33 cases of hepatitis A infection linked to the consumption of imported frozen berries. These berries were recalled from sale and the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources implemented a program of inspection and testing on imported berries.

In late 2015 and early 2016, New Zealand health authorities identified six cases of hepatitis A infection linked to consumption of a New Zealand brand of frozen berries which were recalled from sale. These berries had not been imported into Australia. However, the department implemented preventive measures in the event of future imports from common suppliers.

Importation of food which poses a risk to human health is an offence

Importers must be aware that the presence of pathogens including the hepatitis A virus poses a risk to human health.

Under section 8 of the Imported Food Control Act 1992 (Act), it is an offence to import food into Australia if the importer knows, or ought reasonably to have known, that it poses a risk to human health. The offence carries a penalty of imprisonment for 10 years.

Guidance to assist industry on implementing GAP and GHP

Importers must ensure that supply chains for berries have effective control strategies, in the form of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Good Hygienic Practices (GHP). Berries sourced through supply chains that do not have proper GAP and GHP controls in place may pose a risk to human health.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) published an imported food risk statement for RTE berries on 19 May 2015. The advice was that hepatitis A virus in RTE berries produced and handled under GAP and GHP does not pose a medium or high risk to human health.

For guidance on best practice to manage the hazard of virus contamination in foods through the implementation of GAP and GHP, importers should refer to the Codex Alimentarius Commission guideline document CAC/RCP 53-2003, ‘Code of hygienic practice for fresh fruits and vegetables’ and CAC/GL 79-2012, ‘Guidelines on the Application of General Principles of Food Hygiene to the Control of Viruses in Food’.

Prior to importing berries, importers should take appropriate steps to ensure that GAP and GHP have been applied throughout the supply chain. This should include:

  • A review of the manufacturers and suppliers of the berries to ensure that GAP has been applied at the farms where the berries are grown and GHP applied throughout the supply chain from farm to final packaging for export.
  • Keep records of these assessments on file as evidence of due diligence in sourcing this food for import to Australia.

To appropriately manage the food safety risks associated with berries, importation from a supply chain should only occur where the importer has taken steps to ensure that GAP and GHP are in place, and continue to apply, for that supply chain.

Guidance for thermal inactivation of hepatitis A virus in berries

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has published Guidance for thermal inactivation of hepatitis A virus in berries.

A consignment of imported berries may not be subject to testing (refer to next section) under the scheme where information is provided to the department demonstrating the berries will be processed and subject to a heat treatment sufficient to inactivate the hepatitis A virus.

This importer must provide, in writing, the product name, product description, lot numbers and quantity of the berries to be subject to the heat treatment. Information regarding the effectiveness of the heat treatment will be assessed by the department before determining if testing is not required.

Action being taken on berries under the Imported Food Inspection Scheme

In response to the events above, the department implemented targeted border action which identifies imports from overseas producer and suppliers of berries if they have been linked as possible sources of hepatitis A through epidemiological investigation by state, territory, New Zealand and Australian government health department authorities.

In March 2015, the department also implemented routine surveillance monitoring on berries imported from all sources. More information on this testing program is provided on the webpage Tests applied to surveillance food.

What happens if my consignment of berries does not comply?

Where a consignment of berries does not comply with testing under the scheme, the department will fail the food on the basis that it poses a risk to human health.

As a failure to comply is indicative of the absence of appropriate GAP and GHP, the importer may also be required, under subsection 30(3) of the Act, to provide evidence of the systems in place for the implementation of GAP and GHP in the supply chain.

Where an importer cannot demonstrate appropriate steps have been taken to ensure that GAP and GHP are in place for the supply chain, the department will consider whether an offence under section 8 of the Act has occurred.

Declaring the producer of imported berries

From February 2015, it was a requirement for the producer of berries imported from China to be declared when lodging Full Import Declarations (FIDs) in the Integrated Cargo System (ICS). The requirements were published previously in Imported Food Notice 02-15.

From 1 March 2016, it is a requirement for the producer of berries imported from all countries to be declared when lodging FIDs in the ICS.

This requirement applies to all FIDs lodged in the ICS from 1 March 2016 for consignments of berries declared under tariff codes 08101000, 08102000, 08103000, 08104000, 08109000, 08111000, 08112000 and 08119000.

Information on how to identify and declare producers in the ICS is available on the department’s website.