Needles in Strawberries & Food Safety: Time To Change?

The scandal surrounding needles found in strawberries across Australia has been causing alarm and terror across the country over the weekend, and it’s not the only scandal surrounding food safety in recent years.

Is it not finally time to take measures to really know what’s in our food?



Scandals like this and the infamous 2013 horsemeat scandal in the UK cause hysteria and cost governments and companies millions of collective dollars in lost earnings and the expense of rectifying problems. One act of ‘commercial terrorism’ can have wide-reaching consequences.

The vice president of the Queensland Strawberry Growers Association described the strawberry contamination as having brought a multimillion dollar industry to its knees. An immediate reaction was that New Zealand’s main food distributor have already said that they are taking Australian strawberries off their shelves altogether.

Awareness is a precursor to change though, and the attention that cases like this receive will surely bring up questions as to how farmers in Australia can better protect their crops. The theme has been followed in the UK too, where calls for greater transparency in labelling packaging have been getting louder.

That’s after hundreds of samples gathered by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) contained multiple traces of other, ‘unspecified meat’ than what was on the label in a range of different products.

Hopefully, as awareness and concerns grow, the industry will react. This will have to mean taking a proactive, not reactive approach to avert future incidents like these.

Proactive not Reactive

It’s the nature of the beast that it takes something to be found before a reaction is had and measures are taken, and that preparing for all eventualities is impossible.

That’s the same across the board, whether it be reacting to needles, bacteria or traces of horse.

However, that can be too little too late. Take, for example, the listeriosis outbreak in South Africa earlier this year, which was largely blamed on poor food safety standards. That cost the government more than $800,000 and more importantly cost over 200 people their lives. The death toll could have been kept down by a quick reaction to the crisis, but could it have been avoided altogether if broader, more preventative measures were in place in the first place?

Similarly, in Australia – farmers are left buying metal detectors retrospectively, instead of having the means in place to assess the content of their crop before it’s sent out. Even if the contamination in this place has been happening further down the supply chain, in commercial outlets, then at least that will give farmers the peace of mind to assure customers that their product is safe.

What Will the Future Look Like?

It’s a lot easier said than done, but universal food standards would be a huge step towards making sure we know what’s in our food globally. A few years ago, it would have been an impossible task, but the invention of block chain could change all that. The decentralised, peer-reviewed system of blockchain means that we could potentially have regulations without a regulator – the industry could, in theory, look after itself.

Then there’s other technology and companies doing some really interesting things in the food safety space at the moment. I could write a whole other article on just this, but the likes of Campden BRI, Eurofins, Intertek, Merieux NutriSciences, Neogen, NIZO, SGS (the list could go on) are all at the forefront of food safety research and testing, and it’s their discoveries today that will make our food safer tomorrow.

I’d really like to hear your thoughts on this too (potentially to inform that next article) – who do you think are helping us in the fight for food safety? Let me know in the comments, please!

The conclusion is that not knowing what’s in our food causes panic, and understandably so. If we can’t trust the very thing that’s supposed to deliver us sustenance and keep us fit and healthy, then what chance have we got? And if we can’t say for certain exactly what we’re eating, then can we really know ourselves?

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