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NRS to test for metals and microbes from Jan 2018

The Apple & Pear National Residue Survey (NRS) will be expanded from January this year to include microbiological and heavy metals screening in addition to the existing pesticide residue analysis  to reflect growing demands for more comprehensive food safety data.

The expansion of the program will enable the full suite of tests to now be carried out under the survey avoiding duplication at pack-house level where managers faced arranging duplicate testing to meet retailer Quality Assurance (QA) scheme requirements for the additional microbiological and heavy metals data.

The previously one-size-fits-all program will also now comprise two sub programs for the domestic and export markets enabling more targeted market-appropriate information delivery.

Key Points

  • NRS expanded to include microbiological and heavy metals screening in addition to residue analysis
  • Takes effect from Jan 2018
  • Increase in breadth offset by decrease in total number of tests
  • New domestic and export sub programs allow tailored end-use specific screening

The change comes in response to an internal review of the NRS by NRS managers and APAL in consultation with industry that revealed that the 20-year-old program which has historically focused solely on pesticide residue analysis was no longer meeting the full suite of today’s customer requirements.

The National Residue Survey is run by the Australian Government, Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) and funded by a specific apple and pear NRS levy.

The program underpins the clean green reputation of Australian produce by ensuring industry compliance with Australian and International regulations, encouraging good agricultural practice, helping to identify potential food safety issues, and indicating to authorities where follow up is needed.

Under the program apple and pear samples are collected from packing sheds across Australia. In addition, random samples are taken from wholesale markets across all capital cities.  These are then sent to laboratories for pesticide residue analysis and environmental contaminants testing.

Apple and pear growers have consistently demonstrated a high compliance with Australian standards on chemical residues and environmental contaminants.

The National Residue Survey 2016-17 – Apples & Pears reported a compliance rate of 98pc for both apples and pears.

Changing requirements by supermarket chains for microbiological and heavy metals testing in addition to pesticide residue analysis were a significant contributing factor in the decision to expand the NRS program.

The review identified that unless the program evolved to meet the current practical requirements of the pack sheds, there was a risk they would opt out of the program in preference for conducting their own testing where the full suites of tests could be done more efficiently.

Major pack sheds were each contacted by NRS program managers and were supportive of the inclusion of microbiological and heavy metals testing in the NRS program.  Many quality managers reported duplicate fruit sampling for both NRS and supermarket chains as an inefficient and unnecessary burden.

While the breadth of the testing will expand there will be a reduction in the total number of samples tested from 380 to 266.

In addition to expanding the breadth of testing, the program will allow for an increasing focus on the export by implementing an improved information management system tailored for export and domestic programs.

Export and domestic sub-programs

From January 2018 the pome fruit program will include two sub-programs covering domestically traded fruit and export consignments.

The NRS information management system to be updated early 2018 will include an export program option that will only be available to pack-houses.

Based on an estimate of export volumes, NRS expects about 26 of the allocated 266 pack-house samples to be tagged as export.

While domestic fruit samples collected from pack-houses will receive the full suite of testing, there is no requirement for export samples to be subjected to microbiological or heavy metals testing and they will receive the multi-residue testing only.

Sampling regime

  • 266 physical samples collected from pack-houses with allocation based on production volumes and grower / supplier numbers.
    1. Domestic – 90% allocation about 240 samples
    2. Export – 10% allocation about 26 samples
  • 83 physical samples collected from city markets and direct from growers in regions not covered by the pack-houses covered in 1.

Approximately 240 domestic samples collected directly from pack-houses will receive the full suite of screening. This meets the supermarket QA requirements indicated by pack-houses during the consultation phase.

About 26 export samples collected directly from pack-houses will only receive the multi-residue screen.

Eighty three samples collected by a third party collector will only receive the multi-residue screen. The growers selected by the third party for sample collection at the market are usually unaware the collection has occurred. It is not feasible to expect the third party collector to contact each producer and provide results.

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