10 ANNUAL DIRECTORY 2017 FOOD SAFETY IN 2017 On a daily basis, we barely give food safety a thought The Campylobacter illness outbreak in Havelock North in 2016 reminds us how easy it is to take the quality of our resources for granted. We assume that our water supplies are safe and, in New Zealand, can pride ourselves on high quality water supplies. This incident shows how easy things can go wrong. Although investigations into the cause are continuing, this incident could have easily been prevented by the chlorination of the water. I assumed all town water supplies were chlorinated but apparently this is not the case. Why do we take the risks of contamination and ill health by avoiding simple effective, well proven methods, such as chlorination, to ensure our safety? We see a similar situation with our food. In New Zealand we pride ourselves on high quality food supplies and we are known internationally for our reputation as a trusted supplier of safe food. On a daily basis, we barely give food safety a thought. We know it is important but assume all food supplies are safe. This is generally the case as our food manufacturers make use of food technology, applying effective food processing techniques to ensure the food we buy and export to the rest of the world is safe. It is in the food manufacturer’s best interests to ensure their foods are safe. However, there are situations where we choose to ignore or a v o i d Steve Flint some of the key principles involved in the manufacture of safe food. One such example is the desire for some sectors of the population to consume milk and dairy products that have not been treated by pasteurisation. Pasteurisation is a heat treatment process that will ensure the safety of these products. It has been used for many years, and has prevented diseases such as tuberculosis, brucellosis and many others that used to be associated with the consumption of milk before pasteurisation became mandatory. There are many examples of food poisoning outbreaks from raw milk cheese in countries such as France, where raw milk cheese is common. If we choose to avoid pasteurisation of milk, then we can also expect more food safety issues. It is easy to become complacent when we are not faced with the threat of food poisoning on a daily basis. An example of such complacency was the report of a fellow kiwi who, in 2015, found himself in hospital with the first case of botulism seen in New Zealand for 30 years. He came close to losing his life and lost 17kg in weight. This is the most serious form of food poisoning and was a result of his misfortune in consuming a risotto meal well past its “use by” date. The food had no preservatives and was stored at room temperature. The food smelt bad but he took the risk and ate the meal, suffering the consequences within hours of consumption. He ignored the need to refrigerate foods and ended up in hospital with life-threatening botulism. Foodborne illness is a big issue in many countries, especially those ‘third world’ countries where they do not have access to clean water, sources of heat and refrigeration. In New Zealand we have approximately 15,000 cases of food poisoning per year, costing more than $100 million (ESR figures 2014). I am sure anyone who has had a bout of Campylobacter food poisoning would agree that this is something to be avoided. In New Zealand we have access to the resources we need to ensure, through simple, proven methods of food preparation and storage, the prevention of food poisoning. Sadly I believe we will see a similar number of cases of food poisoning in 2017 to that of 2016 because we do not always follow the simple principles that ensure food safety. To put it in a nutshell, there is no excuse for foodborne illness in New Zealand. Professor Steve Flint teaches food technology at Massey University.
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