North Queensland pest and diseases workshops a success

On 20 and 21 July 2021 58 industry members, including melon and vegetable growers, agronomists and consultants, attended in person and 17 joined live online to the pest and disease workshops in Ayr and Gumlu, north Queensland.

These events were organised by AUSVEG in collaboration with Melons Australia with presentations from Growcom, Queensland Department Agriculture and Fisheries, and New South Wales Department of Primary Industries.

A range of topics were discussed including new chemical developments for insect control, fall armyworm, food safety and traceability, tospoviruses and mosaic viruses, general biosecurity obligation and hitchhiker pests, varroa and bee diseases and serpentine and vegetable leafminer.

Spotlight on Food safety and traceability in the spotlight in North Queensland Workshops

Dr SP Singh, the Safe Melons program leader from the NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI), virtually presented at both workshops. The key messages he delivered were:

1. Responsibility of primary producers and others in the supply chain to ensure produce (food) safety is not less than the responsibility of drug and vaccine manufacturers.
2. Contaminated water (irrigation or spray or postharvest), contaminated soil amendments, pack-house facilities and infected workers are the primary causes of majority of the foodborne outbreaks linked to the produce.
3. A combination of preventative (best practice), detective (microbiological testing) and corrective controls (traceability) is required to minimise the microbial food safety risks.
4. Cross-contamination is an issue much bigger than the isolated contamination. Identify potential hotspots for cross-contamination in your operation.
5. ‘Produce testing’ is not the solution, but the ‘Process Testing’ is. Regular microbiological testing of water, soils, and packhouse facilities for foodborne pathogens is essential.
6. Digital traceability based on the global standards such as the GS1 provides an additional layer of security to minimise the food safety risks that are beyond control in your farm.

The general public is currently aware of the strategies implemented by the public health authorities to contain COVID-19 outbreaks. Dr Singh took this opportunity to draw parallels between foodborne illness and COVID-19 outbreaks.

  • Implementing best practice in food safety risk management on farm is similar to the preventative measures of face masks, social distancing and vaccination for COVID control.
  • The role of COVID-19 testing in the community is analogous to the detection of pathogens on farm through a comprehensive microbiological testing of inputs (water, amended soils) and environment (conveyor belts, floors).
  • Despite the preventative and detective controls in place, food safety failures can still occur. That’s why growers and packers need to have a robust traceability system to quickly recall the potentially contaminated product to reduce the risk of damage to the consumers. The containment of any outbreak (COVID-19 or food safety) depends upon the ability to find the source and its transmission in the community or supply chain.
  • The importance of validation and verification of traceability systems was highlighted to ensure their functionality during the crisis.

The melon traceability project is funded by the Australian Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment under the Traceability Grants Round 1. For further information, please contact Dr SP Singh on sp.singh@dpi.nsw.gov.au or phone 02 4348 1935.

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