This year sees the next Ministry for Primary Industries’ New Zealand Total Diet Study kick off…and your product could be under the microscope during the next 11 months.
Every five years, a nationwide survey of foods available for sale is conducted to determine what is in the foods we eat. Testing is done to assess New Zealanders’ exposure to certain chemicals such as agricultural compounds, contaminants and nutrients, and identifies any potential food safety risks we face.
Only the most commonly consumed foods are included in the study…around 120 foods known as key foods are observed, and are selected via information from the Ministry of Health’s national nutrition surveys.
Foods for the survey are categorised as either a national food (meaning it can be purchased anywhere in New Zealand) or a regional food (where the composition of the food varies around the country). Foods are purchased from retail outlets such as the supermarket, green grocer, butcher, fish shop, takeaway or café. National foods are purchased in one city, while regional foods are bought from four cities or towns.
Food purchased over the calendar year from a number of regions is prepared as they would be consumed before being tested. Each food is sampled twice over a calendar year to cover seasonal variations. This year’s survey will look at 16 priority chemicals, including aluminum, arsenic, lead, mercury, iodine, selenium, sodium, carbonates, organochlorines and organophosphates.
Data on levels of certain agricultural compounds, contaminants and nutrients are combined with information on what people eat for different age/sex groups and estimate dietary exposure to those chemicals. Using the key foods, 14-day simulated diets are developed in order to ensure the food eaten by the average Kiwi continues to be safe.
Once the level of exposure to chemicals for each age/sex groups has been obtained, these are compared with national and international health-based guidance and standards, such as the acceptable daily intake. This information is used to identify the potential for adverse health effects associated with certain foods.
Globally, a study of this kind is considered a critical tool to identify any food safety risks that might exist. Part of the Ministry’s monitoring and testing regime, it is focused on providing all consumers with the highest levels of assurance and confidence on the integrity and safety of New Zealand food.