One of the latest biosecurity treatment options is helping Australian produce to be delivered to markets faster, fresher and in higher volumes than previously possible, according to Asia-Pacific's most prominent contract sterilisation and decontamination processor.
Queensland-based Steritech has spent the past 20 years developing phytosanitary irradiation, which Fresh Produce Business Manager Ben Reilly says is proving valuable for an increasing number of products and markets.
"Compared to chemical and heat specific treatments, irradiation is very flexible," he said. "The traditional treatments all had unique strength as well as a sacrifice; whether it was on speed, volume or cold chain integrity. Irradiation largely combines these strengths into one treatment without any of the limitations. Having a choice of treatments is allowing Australian industry to deliver more competitive programs through a combination of sea and air freight shipments."
Irradiation is much like microwaves or light and exists in in the form of energy waves. These waves pass through the package and product before rapidly dissipating. The fruit is edible immediately after treatment as there is no residual energy. It is effective at all handling temperatures which makes it a healthy, fresh solution for fresh produce phytosanitary treatments.
Mr Reilly adds that the long-term commitment to this treatment has started to deliver results like table grape and cherry protocols to Vietnam and the mangoes to the USA. As well, fruits like berries and cherries are so perishable and sensitive that exporters are very limited in export potential without irradiation as an option.
Steritech has plans for a Melbourne facility to improve access for southern producers with crops like grapes, citrus, summer fruit and cherries.
"The Melbourne facility will be perfectly located to service domestic distribution," Mr Reilly said. "When local supply ends, markets like Western Australia often rely on imports rather than sourcing from Australia’s east coast production. We are very excited about our potential to work with Australian retail in increasing access to Australian grown choices. Mangoes, berries, tomatoes among other northern export crops will remain logistically suited for treatment in Queensland."
Phytosanitary irradiation works by sterilising an insect, preventing it from reproducing. Sources for phytosanitary irradiation include Cobalt, E-beam and X-ray. The latter two use electricity to generate the irradiation. Both E-beam and X-ray technology will be utilised in the Melbourne facility. Mr Reilly says irradiation’s greatest challenge is developing the protocols fast enough for industry demand.
"We travel extensively visiting export markets to understand commercial and consumer needs. We also assist with addressing barriers to market access where it is yet to be achieved. When it comes to creating the new protocols, we work with industry and government to ensure technical requirements do not unnecessarily restrict ability to meet a market’s needs. Although most of our business is in exports, there is a growing opportunity and justification for irradiation to be considered as a remedial and on-arrival treatment option. This is something we are continuing to explore."
The company is confident demand is increasing, which is demonstrated by the volume of trade and industry support for additional protocols.
"The existing irradiation protocols have created clear benefits for everyone from the farmer through to the consumer," Mr Reilly said. "It is important for these new protocols to be created with foresight to be effective for future trade. The increasing use of innovative packaging for premium products will only further drive the demand for treatments like irradiation that can be applied to fully sealed packs."
He adds Australia’s diverse production regions and complex biosecurity scenario is both a challenge and opportunity in one - and the industry needs to have flexible, effective solutions in place that ensure it and the future potential is not limited.
"Trade relationships, biosecurity and technology are always changing and impacting each other," Mr Reilly said. "I am confident phytosanitary irradiation is playing an increasingly important role in delivering this. Likewise, I am confident Australia is in a prime position to take advantage of the technology with world leading facilities, protocols and industry support already present."
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