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Food Safety Pasteurisation Research

22 October 2005

Food Safety Pasteurisation Research

New Zealand Food Safety Authority is undertaking research to assess the risk to New Zealand consumers from the consumption of raw (unpasteurised) milk and milk products, which are not currently allowed to be sold in New Zealand.

New Zealanders travel widely and sample an ever increasing and exotic range of foods in all sorts of places. People who have sampled the raw milk cheeses of Europe are keen to be able to buy and eat these when they get back home.

However, before the New Zealand standard for unpasteurised milk and milk products can be changed, a comprehensive assessment of the risks, both to consumers and to our vital animal based industries, must first be undertaken, NZFSA Acting Executive Director Sandra Daly says.

As part of the assessment, NZFSA, in partnership with Fonterra, other government scientists and universities, will undertake world-leading studies to measure the effectiveness of the pasteurisation process under modern commercial conditions.

By knowing exactly what level of protection the pasteurisation process delivers, the Authority will be to assess the relative risks of unpasteurised milk and milk products and consider what measures may be available to manage these risks, Mrs Daly says.

Raw milk cheeses may contain pathogens such as Listeria monocytogenes. In countries such as France, where a lot of raw milk cheese is eaten, serious illnesses associated with these foods are known to occur, and in some cases result in death, she says. While countries with a long history of eating raw milk cheeses accept this risk to their consumers, New Zealand has historically required all milk and milk products to be pasteurised before sale. This step has been an important part of the protective measures that have reduced the New Zealand incidence of diseases such as tuberculosis. "We know that New Zealand consumers are keen to have access to these products and that is why we are looking at how this might be possible while protecting public health and New Zealand's international reputation as a supplier of safe food"

Fonterra's unique facilities and expertise are being made available to conduct the research, which is well underway, but the methodology has been developed by scientists from NZFSA, ESR and Massey University and any resulting decisions will be made solely by NZFSA.

This research will also be used to evaluate whether new technologies for treating raw milk and raw milk products can achieve the same level of food safety as pasteurisation while having the advantage of not resulting in any food quality changes. Mrs Daly says.

The developed risk assessment will avoid having to consider the import and domestic production of dozens of raw milk cheeses on a case-by-case basis, she says.

The research is expected to take about two years.

Mrs Daly says that while the research will take a holistic approach to the safety of raw milk cheeses, work already done by Australian scientists specifically on Roquefort cheese, a soft blue vein cheese made from sheep's milk, may see it being sold in New Zealand earlier than other unpasteurised products.

This follows an application Food Standards Australia New Zealand received some years ago from the French Government to amend the Australian New Zealand Food Standards Code to permit the sale of Roquefort in Australia.

NZFSA has also been asked by the French Government to consider allowing Roquefort to be sold in New Zealand. NZFSA has initiated a specific risk assessment to consider this request in the context of the New Zealand environment. A decision is expected early in 2006.

The Authority has a regulatory obligation to carry out its own tests but intends to make use of the Australian research, Mrs Daly says.

ENDS


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