www.foodtechnology.co.nz 3 Kathryn Calvert Editor NZ FOODTechnology HOPEFUL ENDEAVOURS IN PACKAGING SUSTAINABILITY On a recent trip to the Middle East (more details next issue), I came across my first real contact with widespread country of-origin packaging on food. In Qatar, fresh food sold in supermarkets includes where it is from in large writing on signs and on the product labelling itself. New Zealand gala apples, for example, sit proudly between other varieties from Poland, China and Australia…there is no ambiguity or confusion, and it makes shopping simpler and more enjoyable. Our story this month on the promise of country-of-origin labelling here shows the food industry generally supports the move, and rightly so. It’s a terrific branding tool, and perfect for purchasers as the general public get more educated on where food comes from. Check out our story on Maori kiwifruit initiatives, read about one of Waiheke Island’s wine success stories, and catch the preview for FoodPac in Australia. Have a happy May. Generally, processed ready-to-eat and cold-stored meat and dairy products are considered high-risk foods for L. monocytogenes bacterial infections that cause human illness in the form of listeriosis. However, several recent listeriosis outbreaks have been linked to fresh produce contamination around the world. Additionally, studies have detected L. monocytogenes in fresh produce samples and even in some minimally processed vegetables. The incidence of foodborne outbreaks caused by contaminated fresh fruits and vegetables has increased in recent years, with most outbreaks reported in the USA, Europe, Canada, and to a lesser extent in Australia and New Zealand. These foodborne outbreaks are not only a burden on public health but also cause heavy economic loss to the food industry. Several groups of microorganisms can colonise or contaminate fruits and vegetables at any point in the food supply chain. Pathogenic microorganisms such as E. coli, Salmonella, L. monocytogenes and norovirus are commonly associated with contaminated fresh produce, including cantaloupe, strawberries, mangos, leafy green vegetables, lettuce, salad mixes, sprouts, cabbage, cut celery and radishes. The severity of listeriosis can range from mild gastroenteritis to severe disease conditions (septicaemia, encephalitis, meningitis, abortions and stillbirths) and can result in a high fatality rate in immune-compromised populations. Some people have a higher risk for developing listeriosis, such as the elderly, and the mortality rate can be 20%–30% for those who contract listeriosis. Innovative business opportunities and product diversity that appeal to the consumer may also increase food safety risks. Cut fruits and vegetables have a higher microbial risk profile than the ‘whole’ produce, therefore it is not surprising that delicatessen salads made up of the same vegetables can be more contaminated. One of the problems associated with fresh produce is that, unlike tinned or packaged foods, there is a lack of information on the shelf-life and expiration dates. There are also risks associated with fresh produce sold by street vendors. Potatoes exposed directly to the sun can result in solanine production, and consumption of foods containing it can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, headache, dizziness and fever. In more severe cases, hallucinations, paralysis and even death can result. When exposed to rain and sun at more than 20 degrees C, Salmonella, E. coli or L. monocytogenes will multiply to toxic levels in cauliflower. Consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables is important for a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle, (but) it is important to understand the nature of fresh produce safety challenges, contamination sources, risks to the consumer, and approaches to eliminate or reduce the level of contaminants. Scientific understanding is rapidly evolving in this important area of food safety. Professor Gooneratne has co-authored a recent paper and an article in science journal Food in collaboration with Dr Malik Hussain at Food Authority of New South Wales, Australia, on the threat. EDITOR'S NOTE BREAKING NEWS A SCIENTIST WARNING Lincoln University Professor of Toxicology Ravi Gooneratne is warning that contamination of fresh produce is emerging as a major food safety challenge.
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