The Department of Health has urged aged care operators to cut up fruit before serving it to residents, after a needle was found in a banana at an aged care facility in New South Wales.

The operator of the facility where the needle was found immediately contacted police and advised the Department of Health.

The warning comes as police investigate more than 100 reports from around the country of sewing needles found in strawberries, prompting the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, to announce increased penalties for people found guilty of food contamination.

A statement from the Department of Health said, “The Department urges all aged care approved providers and residents to exercise caution and cut up their fruit before consumption.”

The Department urged operators to remain “vigilant” against further food tampering incidents.

“We stress the importance of vigilance to manage the safety and wellbeing of residents.”

If contaminated fruit is found, the Department recommends contacting local police in the first place.

The Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is investigating whether there are weakness in the food supply chain, and how the Government can help police.

Pat Sparrow, CEO of ACSA, provided guidance for aged care operators to apply on top of the usual food safety procedures.

“All aged care providers have food standards and safety protocols in place. Building on this, ACSA provided additional advice after being notified about a food tampering incident. Some of the key points advised included:

  • Revisit food safety protocols to eliminate and manage the current risks in relation to fresh fruit and vegetables.
  • Consider adding fresh fruit and vegetables as a high-risk food item within your food safety/plan/documents
  • Undertake a risk assessment within the organisation/facility; including reviewing Food Safety Plans
  • Undertake additional training with all food-handling staff
  • Contact suppliers requesting written information on how they are managing the risk and more broadly what mechanisms the supplier has in place to guarantee the safety of the food supplied including whether they have removed the affected brands.
  • Implement strategies to mitigate the risk such as avoiding serving whole fresh fruit and vegetables by cutting up or chopping fresh items prior to serving.
  • Communicate with staff, families and residents including encouraging them to cut or chop all fresh fruit or vegetables brought  in prior to consumption. “

Aged care operators should contact the relevant peak body, the health department, or food authorities if they require more information.

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