Manual guards NZ market access

Continued access of New Zealand’s food industries to economically important export markets depends on our ability to meet the regulatory and market access requirements of that country.

The ‘Meat Industry Microbiological Methods’ manual, managed by AgResearch, is designed for use by laboratories typically found in, or used by, the New Zealand meat industry.

In the manual methods that are rapid, but at the same time cost effective, and considered appropriate for microbiological testing of samples are included. Sample types are meat and allied foods, potable water or the waste-waters produced during food processing.

The manual also includes tests for organisms (or their products) that indicate microbiological contamination and/or satisfactory hygienic control of processes and for specific identification of spoilage organisms or pathogens.

All meat industry laboratories registered with the Ministry of Primary Industries’ (MPI) under their laboratory accreditation scheme have access to the manual as part of that accreditation. MPI provides this access and funds AgResearch to keep the manual up-to-date with latest international practices.

“As caretakers of New Zealand’s Reference Lab for Meat Microbiology, AgResearch delivers the science support to the regulators to enable New Zealand’s access to export markets and demonstrate regulatory equivalence,” says manual editor and AgResearch Senior Scientist John Mills.

“We are responsible for the Meat Industry Microbiology Methods manual; its validation and auditing of current microbiological methods and have been delivering annual reviews of the manual since the early ‘90s.

“These days the manual is delivered via a website, and its purpose has evolved somewhat over the years. It always was a reference for New Zealand’s meat industry microbiology labs, the difference is that now we try and present the information in a way that makes it accessible to a wider meat industry audience; everyone from the lab workers with their science background to the meat worker on the processing plant floor. Methods that can be upheld internationally are presented in an easy-to-follow format with flowcharts, diagrams and photographs.”

John is the main editor of the manual, with assistance of other AgResearch Food Assurance and Meat Quality team members.

The manual is updated annually after a review of any changes to international standards of meat micro biology processes. Major changes are reviewed by MPI and New Zealand’s Laboratory Accreditation Scheme Panel (a consultative panel, which John sits on as an expert member). Those changes then go out to members for review before finally being adopted.

“We have adapted internationally recognised methods to meet New Zealand conditions, but in a way that are still acceptable to overseas auditors,” says John.

“This allows other markets to accept that New Zealand methods are equal to theirs, which then allows for a simpler, less costly testing procedures for our products in those markets.

“The manual is more than just words on a page, it is a vital part of the day-to-day processes that protect out market access for New Zealand meat products.”