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Australia kicks off World Food Safety Day with a global outlook


One of the first World Food Safety Day events this year took place in Australia in an event jointly hosted by Environmental Health Australia (EHA) and the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) of the United States of America. The aim of the event was, over a 24-hour period, to talk with food safety regulators from around the world to get an idea of the different – and similar – challenges, approaches and practices encountered in different countries.

The Australian half of the event was chaired by EHA’s President, Philip Swain, who spoke with Frank Yiannas, Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response at the Food and Drug Administration of the United States of America (FDA), Kamran Khodaverdi, an Environmental Health Officer (EHO) who worked for many years in Iran, James Teio, the Program Officer for Food Safety and Quarantine, Environmental Health Branch in Papua New Guinea and Lydia Buchtmann, from Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).

Yiannas gave a talk about work at the FDA and, in particular, the 10th anniversary of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) this year, and its follow-on programme, the New Era of Smarter Food Safety. He started off with the point that “in a global food system, if foodborne disease exists somewhere in the world, it can exist anywhere in the world.” In that vein, he went on to explain how the FDA is using some of the most advanced technologies to protect domestic consumers from food safety hazards in imported food. This, he underlined, is crucial for managing the food inspection logistics for a country that imports millions of containers of food annually and 32% of its fresh vegetables, 55% of its fresh fruit and at least 94% of the seafood consumed domestically. The FDA is using new and emerging technologies “to build a more digital, traceable and safer food system.” Enhanced traceability, remote inspections and the use of new preventive techniques, such as AI and machine learning to strengthen their predictive capabilities are all part of the smarter food safety plans of the FDA.

a more digital, traceable and safer food system

Khodaverdi also talked about technologies – but on a significantly smaller scale. He talked about the different items of equipment he would typically use when inspecting food premises when he was working in Iran. These would include a water testing kit to test the pH and chlorine of the water in kitchens, a digital oil quality testing stick, a digital salt tester and a “hygiene device” that determines whether the cleaning products used in a kitchen actually do their job. He compared his work in Iran to that in Australia and identified a number of regulatory differences. The salt test, for example, is mandatory in Iran and does not feature in EHO work in Australia. Iran’s rules are generally stricter, with shorter periods between inspections. In Iran, business owners are required to pass a medical test, and this forms a part of a “health card” for the business. Consumers can also make decisions based on food inspectors’ reports of any given premises, by searching a restaurant on google maps, the latest inspection score is made available and consumers can submit their own comments and feedback to the same software, which inspectors are required to respond to.

Teio described the food outlets in Papua New Guinea which a food safety officer would typically inspect.  These include small trade shops that pop up everywhere including cities, along the highways and in rural areas, and takeaway shops called ‘Kaibars’. Food safety inspectors work all over the country, including in the remote rural areas although the pandemic has essentially put a stop to inspections. He made the point that it is generally hard to monitor the true extent of foodborne illness in Papua New Guinea, as very little is reported. Authorities only really know about outbreaks from consumers themselves – but in those instances, food safety officers immediately close down the related premises and then work to identify the origin of the problem.

Buchtman had a different story to tell, from the perspective of working on food standards harmonization between Australia and New Zealand. She contrasted the fact that the United States imports much of its food, whereas food is the second most important export for Australia, and the first for New Zealand. She described the route to the FSANZ relationship which now means the two countries are working together on Food Standards Codes. Her role as a ‘risk communicator’ is to monitor the safety of the food supply. She made the comment that the increase in online shopping – which has grown rapidly during the pandemic – risks undermining the food safety system.


Watch the NEHA part of the event, with talks from Egypt, the United States and Jamaica.