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NZFSA tests more imported foods

NZFSA tests more imported foods

4 October 2007

The New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) is to test more imported foods. This is part of its monitoring that ensures New Zealand's food safety systems are working properly and that those selling food meet their legal responsibilities to ensure it is safe, says Glen Neal, NZFSA Assistant Director (New Zealand Standards).

"Included in the latest surveillance is continuing testing at the border of vegetable proteins, sampling of land-based farmed seafoods from many countries, and testing Roquefort raw milk cheese.

"In response to consumer concerns we brought forward our planned testing of Chinese land-based farmed seafoods, and these results have been available for some time. No residues of health significance were found. We are now widening our look at these products from other countries, and will test for residues of a range of chemical used to deal with poor water hygiene and high stock rates in land-locked farms. Triphenylmethane dyes, chloramphenicol and nitrofurans will be among the chemicals we will be looking for."

Roquefort cheese from the European Union is now permitted to be directly imported into New Zealand following recent changes to food rules. While government-to-government certification agreements between the EU and New Zealand guarantee that the microbiological, food safety and process hygiene criteria for Roquefort meets New Zealand's standards, NZFSA will check E.coli levels.

"Raw milk cheeses can carry a higher risk for some people," says Glen Neal. "Our advice to pregnant women, young children, frail elderly and those with low immunity is to avoid raw milk cheeses."

NZFSA has been testing all shipments of vegetable proteins such as wheat gluten and soy and corn meal since May in response to problems with pet food in the United States. Although no contamination has been found, the testing will continue.

Final details around the number of samples, specific foods and a full rundown of specific residues to be targeted are being finalized, and sampling will begin well before Christmas.

"We should have the report before April," says Glen Neal. "However, as is always the case with our monitoring research, if we find a result of health significance we act immediately and do not wait for the final report. The last time this happened was in 2004 when we detected high levels of lead in corn flour."

Testing of aquaculture foods from China in May this year found six residues of triphenylmethane dyes and their metabolites and nine residues of nitrofuran antibiotic metabolites.

Two of the apparent nitrofuran residues were of a substance called semicarbazide, which sometimes occurs naturally and can be mistakenly taken as evidence of nitrofuran use. All of theses residues were well below any level that would pose a health risk and similar to those other regulators around the world found, and showed that the products being sold in New Zealand met requirements and were safe to consume.

Glen Neal says that NZFSA food safety experts look at testing programmes being run by other food safety regulators around the world and assess for New Zealand any apparent risk.

This latest round of monitoring is in addition to routine checks on high risk goods. NZFSA tests certain foods at the border and prevents those that do not meet New Zealand standards from being sold.


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