According to their Annual Report on Emerging and Ongoing Issues, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has identified Salmonella in raw fish as an emerging — and serious — food safety concern for Australians. FSANZ states that there is a risk of Salmonella in farmed shrimp and prawns, but that it has not been identified as a risk for raw fish within the Food Standards Code and is not tested for in HACCP programs. Instead, the concern stems from the discovery of potential cross-contamination of equipment or premises from whole fish or processed pieces of fish that are contaminated.
Cross-contamination a threat to food safety
There are different ways that food can become contaminated. Cross-contamination is the transfer of contaminants from one surface (or food) to another. In the case of raw fish, FSANZ has identified that contaminated raw fish can contaminate equipment or premises, thus contaminating other fish being processed. FSANZ states that “three serotypes of Salmonella from one farmed species have been found to cross-contaminate equipment and two other fish species.” This is a health and food safety concern, even if a fish product is cooked. Even greater concern arises when considering the implications of fish fillets (such as tuna) being eaten raw in sushi, sashimi and ceviche.
While FSANZ states that they are not aware of any human health issues as a result of this identified issue, it is an emerging concern and needs to be watched carefully. Currently, there is no further action required, so this subject has been archived by FSANZ and will be watched for developments and changes that need to be addressed.
The danger of Salmonella
Seafood is one of the top five high-risk foods that cause food poisoning. This is especially true for seafood that is raw or undercooked. Seafood can harbour Salmonella, causing salmonellosis in those that consume the infected seafood if it is not cooked properly. As identified by FSANZ, there is also the threat of infected seafood causing cross-contamination on equipment or within a premises if proper food handling and cleaning and sanitising procedures are not strictly followed.
Salmonellosis is a serious food-borne infection that can cause symptoms such as fever, headache, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. According to a publication on Salmonella by FSANZ, the incubation period is 8-72 hours and the symptoms last for 2-7 days. Vulnerable persons (people in high-risk groups) such as children, the elderly, the sick and the immunocompromised are more susceptible to Salmonella and can suffer from more debilitating effects from the infection. In rare cases it can be fatal. This is why preventing Salmonella infections is critical in the food industry.
Food safety is essential
This threat to food safety identified by FSANZ points to the importance of food safety. The risk of food-borne illness can be greatly reduced by incorporating and following food safety best practices. These include:
- preventing cross-contamination
- cleaning and sanitising of surfaces, equipment, utensils
- safe food preparation
- safe food storage
- proper hygiene protocols
To learn more about food safety in Australia, and requirements for businesses in the food industry, contact the Australian Institute of Food Safety.