Saturday, October 03, 2009

New Draft Standard for egg producers

Tighter regulations on egg producers are being considered in an effort to improve food safety. The details are in a draft standard prepared by Food Standards Australia New Zealand and if it is adopted it will further restrict the sale of dirty eggs and will require all eggs sold in Australia to be individually marked to identify the farm on which each egg was laid.

At first glance it seems a bit bureaucratic, but, as a small-scale egg producer we welcome this initiative which should help to improve the system.

There are so many eggs sold on roadsides and an on market stalls which pose huge potential health problems for consumers because the backyard operators have no idea about food safety – the eggs are often dirty and have not been stored at the correct temperature. They generally have no food safety program in place, they use second hand packaging and local health inspectors usually turn a blind eye.

As long as these new standards apply to ALL egg producers, no matter how small they should go a long way towards bringing honesty back into the system.

Adding a farm identification mark to each egg is already required in Queensland and it doesn't present much of a problem - it's just another step in the process. But I do wonder how these standards will be enforced to ensure there is a level playing field for everyone who sells eggs. It's hardly fair if some of us do the right thing and then have to compete against others who cut corners by not having a food safety program, use secondhand cartons etc etc.

Here's the submission we have made to FSANZ:

As a small producer of eggs, we agree with the introduction of tighter standards designed to achieve better food safety outcomes for consumers. The current, largely voluntary requirements, have put consumers at risk.

We have been particularly concerned that backyard producers are not subjected to the same food safety and packing requirements as registered producers. There have been estimates that as many as two million dozen eggs each year are sold on roadsides, at markets and direct from properties by operators who have no food handling training, do not have a food safety program in place, are not inspected or audited and meet no labelling or packaging requirements.

The proposed change to tighten traceability by marking each individual egg will be a great step forward and we are pleased to note: 'FSANZ agrees that any regulatory obligations should apply to egg producers irrespective of the size of the operation. This is reflected in the draft Standard.'

Hopefully this means what it says and is applied to ALL egg producers. Presumably the definition of an egg producer is someone who sells eggs (regardless of quantity) and will not include people who keep hens in their backyards and give away any surplus eggs. Only if they sell eggs should there be an obligation for them to meet any new requirements. One on-going difficulty will almost certainly be the enforcement of any changes.

We also fully endorse the use of only new packaging and are pleased that in the proposal, 'retailers are required to comply with the packaging requirements in Standard 3.2.2 which prohibits the use of packaging material that is likely to cause contamination.' But does this mean that second hand cartons must not be used or is there an opportunity for producers to make individual decisions on what they think 'is likely to cause contamination' ? Unless the use of new packaging is mandatory this loophole will be widely exploited.

In our experience, the managers of many Farmers' Markets (at least in Victoria) try to ensure that egg sellers do have food safety programs in place and are registered with their local councils. The problems are more apparent with the many hundreds of general or 'trash and treasure' markets which often make no attempt to regulate egg sellers.

No comments: