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Australia strawberries alarm raised in Samoa

The following letter from the Assistant Secretary of Plant Export Operations, Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, regarding interim control measures for the export of fresh strawberries, implemented  by the Australian Government to manage any potential risks to international consumer health and to Australia’s reputation as an exporter of safe horticultural produce. 

Effective from 19 September 2018, exporters are required to provide assurance to the department that their consignment is free from metal contaminants in order for strawberry export permits to be approved. 

Australia’s current health advice is that strawberries be cut before consumption. The implementation of interim measures for exports provides further assurance that the risk of metal contamination in Australian strawberries is being managed. 

Should you have any questions, comments or concerns, or require further information, please do not hesitate to contact me. 

 

Kind Regards 

 

Laura McIlhenny

Third Secretary and Vice-Consul

Australian High Commission Samoa

 

THE LETTER READS:

 

Pelenato Fonoti

Assistant Chief Executive Officer Quarantine Division

Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Samoa 

 

Dear Mr Fonoti,

I am writing with regard to interim measures that the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (the department) has introduced to manage the potential risk in the export supply chain from incidences of intentional metal contamination in fresh strawberries.

Since 12 September 2018, Australian authorities have been responding to incidences of intentional contamination of fresh strawberries with sewing needles or similar metal items. Incidences have been reported at a small number of locations within Australia. I would emphasise that verified contamination events remain limited noting a range of media reports are yet to be substantiated at this time. This intentional contamination, including possible copy-cat activity, is a serious criminal matter and police investigations continue.

The department has been engaged with national food safety agencies with the advice that Australian strawberries are safe to eat noting fruit should be cut up prior to consumption.

The department has also reviewed the situation with regard to export markets and has implemented interim export control measures to address the potential risk of metal contaminants in fresh strawberries intended for export.

Effective from 19 September 2018, exporters are required to provide assurance to the department that their consignment is free from metal contaminants in order for strawberry export permits to be approved. This assurance can include evidence of screening, such as metal detectors or x-ray, noting visual inspection alone is not an acceptable measure.

Our records indicate that approximately 136 kilograms of fresh strawberries have been exported from Australia to Samoa from 1 September – 19 September 2018. While it is not possible to definitively identify any link between commercial brands that have been affected domestically and export fruit, I would emphasise Australia’s current health advice is that strawberries be cut before consumption.

In addition, the department’s interim measures for strawberry exports provides further assurance to retail customers and consumers in overseas markets that the potential risk of metal contamination in Australian strawberries is being managed.

These interim measures apply to fresh strawberries for all export markets, including markets that do not require a phytosanitary certificate, and will remain in place until the current concerns over potential metal contaminants have been addressed.

The Australian Government continues to work closely with state and territory governments and the strawberry export industry on this situation and additional information on Australia’s response will be provided as this incident is resolved.

 

Yours sincerely,

David Ironside 

Assistant Secretary Plant Export Operations 

20 September 2018

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