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Patties Foods explains testing process on product from China

23 February, 2015

In response to consumer and media enquiries regarding safety testing on its fruit and berry products imported from China, Patties Foods MD & CEO, Steven Chaur, issued the following statement.

"The Consumer Recall initiated this week based on Epidemiological advice from the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is a precautionary measure.  There is still no detailed viral analysis from accredited laboratories that proves any firm association of Hepatitis A Virus (HAV) with our recalled products.

"Our focus is on the health and wellbeing of our consumers and we are continuing to work closely with health authorities in the interests of public safety.

"Patties Foods does have in place a rigorous microbiological testing program for all its overseas sourced frozen fruit and berry products, as well as with our products proudly produced here in Australia. All our products are continually tested and pass, in line with the required Australian Food Standards.

"Samples of all imported berry products are tested up to 4 times, again based on Australian Food Standards, before we're satisfied the products are safe to be released to our consumers and retail customers in the Australian market.

"Patties Foods physically inspects all its supplier farms and contracted fruit packing facilities, including those in China. All our packing facilities are accredited to one of the GFSI (Global Food Standards Initiative) Quality Standards, which includes BRC (British Retail Consortium) certification for the facilities under investigation.  

"Our Chinese contracted facilities are selected based on meeting strict food safety and food certification criteria, then are physically audited each year by Patties Foods technical representatives, as well as CIQ (China Inspection and Quarantine Services), which is the Chinese regulator and the equivalent of the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS).

"We test raw material from the farms seasonally for items such as Hepatitis A and novovirus, and we test individual batches for microbiological compliance before the fruit is allowed to enter the packing facility.  

"We then test the fruit again at the production facility for coliforms, listeria, staphylococcus and E.coli, before and after packing into bags.  E.coli testing is a critical biological marker used to identify any potential association with organic materials, such as manure or poor hygiene, and our test results consistently pass all Australian Standards.

"The CIQ tests every container before it leaves the country for microbiological compliance, as a last line of microbiological defence for Patties Foods before the product leaves China.  No container leaves China unless it has full microbiological compliance to FSANZ Standards, and we receive these test results to confirm this before shipment.

"Finally, we then sample test the same product arriving in shipping containers in accordance with the Food Import Compliance Agreement (FICA) requirements of the Australian Department of Agriculture, which requires that 5 per cent of product is tested.  Patties Foods' documented test regime is amongst the highest, testing 20 per cent of all the containers when they arrive in Australia, which is well above the requirements.

"Many Chinese food production facilities also supply European and Japanese food markets, and they also have extremely strict hygiene and quality standards. Despite public misconceptions, many Chinese food production facilities are at least as hygienic as those in Australia, and operate to similar regulatory compliance regimes.

"Having checked through all our quality control testing documentation back to June 2014, we are satisfied that this testing program through the global supply chain has not detected any biological indicators with any of our frozen berry products from China or other global sources that is not in line with Australian guidelines.

"We have initiated further testing of the recalled product from world leading accredited viral laboratories in Europe, North America and here in Australia, and we expect results for HAV within a fortnight.  At this point, we have not been provided any remaining consumer product to test from the 13 confirmed HAV cases to clinically verify if there is indeed a direct link with the Nanna's Mixed Berries as has been drawn.

"In the meantime, we are working closely with FSANZ, state health authorities, major retailers and the national food industry bodies to keep the general public informed of the situation, through the media, advertising, our websites and social media, and our Consumer Hotline, which has increased staff of 50, and is taking over 6,000 calls a day.

"Until the HAV results are formally known, we have stopped all further supply and production of Nanna's Mixed Berries 1kg; Creative Gourmet Mixed Berries 300g/500g packs; and Nanna's Raspberries 1kg from the suspected facilities in China.  We have also engaged a certified global food safety auditor to visit the Mixed Berry packing facilities to conduct a full food safety assessment before any further packing is undertaken.

"I would like to reassure our consumers that the other Nanna's and Creative Gourmet branded berries from our other sources in China, Chile and Europe, including raspberries (Creative Gourmet), strawberries, mangoes, avocado, blueberries, blackberries and cherries are not affected by this precautionary recall. There have been no concerns raised with any HAV association with these products and they are packed in other regions, facilities and global locations.

"We have also taken the immediate step to now increase our sample testing to 100 per cent of all batches of our imported frozen berries from all countries, not just China, for any microbial and viral markers such as HAV.

"I can assure all anxious consumers that everyone at Patties Foods is concerned about public safety and I would like to thank everyone for their patience as we get to the bottom of this," Chaur said.

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