IFN 19-16 – Carbon monoxide treatment of fish

Issued: 22 November 2016

Purpose

The purpose of this notice is to advise importers of restrictions on the use of carbon monoxide in the processing of fish, and to advise fish importers of steps they should take to ensure they only import fish that complies with the Imported Food Control Act 1992.

What is the concern?

The department has received allegations that some suppliers of fish are using carbon monoxide during fish processing operations.

The department is considering commencement of a range of surveillance activities to confirm these allegations and determine the extent of carbon monoxide use during fish processing operations.

The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (the Code) includes provisions restricting carbon monoxide in fish. The department applies these restrictions under the Imported Food Control Act 1992.

Carbon monoxide treatment of fish also has the potential to mislead consumers by hiding the age and condition of fish.

Requirements in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code

Standard 1.3.3—4 the Code expressly prohibits the use of carbon monoxide in the processing of fish where its use results in a change to, or fixes the colour of, the flesh of the fish.

Additionally, Standard 1.3.1 of the Code, which regulates the use of colours and colour fixatives in food (food additives), does not permit the use of carbon monoxide in fish.

The Code does not prohibit very low levels of carbon monoxide that is naturally present in fish flesh. Similarly, it does not prohibit residual carbon monoxide in fish as a result of being present in smoke that is used to process fish as a food.

Labelling

Where food is required to have a label, or otherwise provide information with it, Standard 1.2.2—2 requires that the name or description of the food must be sufficient to indicate the true nature of the food.

All fish that has been smoked must therefore be labelled to identify that it is has undergone a smoking process.

What importers need to do

Importers should take reasonable steps to ensure they are not importing fish that does not comply with the Imported Food Control Act 1992, including fish that has been treated with carbon monoxide and does not comply with the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code.

Importers should consider the following steps:

  • stop importing fish from suppliers that use or may use carbon monoxide during fish processing operations
  • investigate or make inquiries about the fish processing undertaken by overseas suppliers and determine if these processes include or may include carbon monoxide use
  • obtain assurances from overseas suppliers about their use (or non-use) of carbon monoxide in fish processing operations
  • make independent inquiries about imported fish to confirm overseas supplier assurances about carbon monoxide use (for example, analytical testing of product) (see below).
  • review the labelling of fish and fish products to ensure the labelling complies with the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code.

When conducting independent analyses it is possible for low levels of carbon monoxide to be detected. It is not always certain whether these levels correspond to an authorised treatment or to the natural presence of carbon monoxide in the fish. In the European Union, levels between 0.05 and 0.2 mg/kg of carbon monoxide are notified as “suspicion of carbon monoxide”. Importers may wish to consider using this level as a basis for conducting their own independent analyses of fish and fish products for carbon monoxide.

Imported Food Control Act offences

The Imported Food Control Act 1992 places responsibilities on importers to ensure the food they import complies with Australian food standards as listed within the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. The Act provides for periods of imprisonment where a person knowingly imports food that does not comply (Sections 8 and 8A).

The department also works with the community and other regulatory agencies to assess information received about alleged breaches of the imported food and biosecurity legislation requirements.

The public are encouraged to report information about suspected breaches of Australian biosecurity, meat or food inspection laws through its free call Redline service on 1800 803 006.

The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources monitors imported food at the border for compliance with Australia's standards. The rate of inspection depends on the type of fish and may include both labelling and analytical testing – see tests applied to risk food and tests applied to surveillance food.