This February QA and technical staff from New Zealand horticultural businesses met up to work on improving the value businesses can achieve from chemical and microbial verification testing of fruit and veg.

Presenters from Countdown, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), AsureQuality and the Fresh Produce Safety Centre Australia & New Zealand (FPSC) ensured a wide variety of perspectives.

Although New Zealand fruit and vegetables are world-renowned for quality and safety, new products, increasingly complex supply networks, and fickle international markets create greater demands on industry to verify the safety of products through testing.

Speakers emphasised the limitations of testing in our prevention-based systems but equally, the value that can be derived when testing is used as a tool focussed on highest risk practices and to generate data that can identify trends. According to FPSC Food Safety & Science Manager Richard Bennett, “Testing needs to be used in the overall context of the business, its product and process hazards and risks. Participants got the message that it’s the thought that went in to the sampling plan and the analysis of the results that creates the value. A test done just to tick a box that it’s been done is unlikely to create value.” he added.

The retailer’s perspective is similar but at a higher level according to Countdown’s Nancy Parker. “Our testing focusses on higher risk products and suppliers, including sales volumes and global trends and incidents, and also assuring consumers and ourselves that organic is organic. It’s also about looking for compliance at the appropriate stages, such as testing for residues at commencement of shelf life and microbial contaminants at end of shelf life” according to Nancy.

This wide variety of expert viewpoints from across the supply chain helped inform an active workshop session in the afternoon where the most challenging situations were openly discussed. Representatives of United Fresh NZ and Horticulture NZ were panel members to provide the wider industry perspectives on testing.

If you are interested in having a similar workshop in your growing region or on another topic, please contact the Fresh Produce Safety Centre. The Centre is considering running further workshops on risk assessment, traceability and incident management. For further information on best practices for food safety in fresh produce, please refer to the Guidelines for Fresh Produce Food Safety.