US University professor:

"Australian Industry embrace science and instil food safety culture"

Australia needs to do more around food safety, including embracing the science behind food safety practices and instilling a new culture, Dr Douglas Powell, Kansas State University professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology, told delegates at the PMA Fresh Connections Conference and Trade Show, co-hosted by the Produce Marketing Association Australia-New Zealand (PMA A-NZ) and The Australian Chamber of Fruit and Vegetable Industries, in Sydney recently.

“Embracing the science behind microbiologically safe food is the first step to creating a safer food environment in all businesses,” Dr Powell explained, “Fresh fruits and vegetables are raw agricultural commodities that are often consumed without being subjected to a microbiologically lethal step – this comes back to the science behind how to effectively destroy pathogens that can contaminate produce from all levels.”

“Food safety is only as safe as the weakest link.”

“Food safety is the responsibility of whoever produces the food,” Dr Powell told delegates, emphasising that every business in the fresh produce industry has the duty to ensure consumers can “source safe food from safe sources.”

The industry needs to “back themselves with what science said” to guarantee they are maintaining the highest standard of food safety within their organisation. Dr Powell urged business owners to “protect yourself and your market by embracing science.”

Instilling a food safety culture within a business and throughout the fresh produce supply chain is imperative because “all factors that contribute to foodborne illnesses are human.”

“You can’t eliminate foodborne illnesses but you can limit it,” Dr Powell said, “Have someone in your company who knows about food safety so they can ask the right questions and make sure you use different forms of media to communicate your message to employees.”

Dr Powell suggested delegates “be the bug” so they can completely understand the microbiological science behind food safety, once this is done business owners must “compel, rather than educate” their employees to introduce a no-nonsense policy towards food safety within their working environment.

Rapid communication of rapid, reliable, relevant and repeated information to workers through all kinds of media outlets is the best way to create and maintain high standard of food safety. Instilling a “Dude, wash your hands!” mentality in staff is the best way to combat poor safety standards and will limit the chances of foodborne illnesses throughout the business.

Bragging about food safety efforts will also assist in maintaining an organization’s food safety control: “Make food safety a part of your branding… and make your inspections public” Dr Powell urged, “government safety standards are the minimum requirements so if you can exceed these priorities its win/win for you and your consumer.”

Dr Powell urged delegates to remember the 4 C’s of food safety; Complex, Constant, Commitment and Compelling: “food safety is complex otherwise there would be no illnesses; constant diligence is required; commitment from every player in every chain is needed to make sure food is kept as safe as possible and the information needs to be shared as a compelling story for workers to make it easier for them to spread the information further.”

“You’ve got to live and breathe this stuff, day in and day out,” Dr Powell concluded.

PMA A-NZ is taking an active role in enhancing the safety and security of produce across the Australia-New Zealand region, and has worked closely with the University of Sydney Faculty of Agriculture and Environment and Horticulture Australia Limited (HAL) on a new Food Safety initiative.

Fresh Produce Safety Australia & New Zealand (FPSANZ) aims to identify a model for fresh produce safety research in Australia and raise awareness of the challenges for produce safety and the importance of enhancing produce safety practices. The FPSANZ task force is currently working toward formalising a Fresh Produce Safety Centre to be based at the Faculty of Agriculture & Environment at the University of Sydney and affiliated to the Center for Produce Safety at the University of California (Davis).

It will plan how the industry deals with outbreaks in the region, particularly crisis mitigation, management and consumer communication and will work with the industry to identify research priorities and collaborative partnerships in research, outreach and education.

For more information on the Food Safety Task Force visit or go to

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