Don’t touch those berries

s800Michael Sheridan - ipad app shotA new smartphone app provides an immediate alert when foodstuffs in shops, homes and restaurants have been declared risky.

Contaminated foodstuffs, which may carry bacterial hazards or undeclared allergens, can cause as many as 70 to 80 food recalls per year, issued by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).

Once the FSANZ issues a food recall, the next important step is communicating that message urgently to all the people who need to know.
Members of the public, particularly in service industries and remote locations, need to know immediately when a serious health risk causes a food recall.

The information is posted on the FSANZ website. But that doesn’t always reach everyone quickly enough.

“Busy restaurant chefs may not always check the website before grabbing ingredients to start preparing a meal,” says Michael Sheridan from James Cook University. “And tuckshops in dozens of remote schools may not know immediately that their snackfoods could contain dangerous, unlabelled allergens such as nuts or seafood.”

“But while people may not always check a website before they start cooking a meal, there’s a good chance they’ll have their smartphone handy—and that means we can send them an alert,” says Michael.

“The new FoodRecall app provides a really easy, immediate way to advise people of food recall notifications.”

The inspiration for the app came from Australia’s frozen-berries Hepatitis A scare in early 2015—a scare that has repeated in NZ in recent months. “That frozen berry scare inspired us to develop a better way to promote and publicise food recalls,” explains Michael, who worked with Assoc Prof Andreas Lopata, Head of Molecular Immunology Group at James Cook University, to develop and promote the app.

The app is predominantly aimed at food professionals and retailers, as well as childcare, aged care, and schools and parents who may live in remote locations some hours from medical treatment for an allergic reaction. The app is also already being used by health regulators inspecting premises where food is stored or prepared.

The majority of food recalls are due to contamination, mainly bacterial and viral, as well as undeclared food allergens.

The FoodRecall Aus app is available from the Google Play and iTunes app stores.

Michael presented his research at Fresh Science North Queensland 2015.

Fresh Science is a national program that helps early-career researchers find and share their stories of discovery. Almost 180 early-career researchers nominated for Fresh Science 2015, and this was the first year it was held in Townsville. Fresh Science North Queensland was held at James Cook University (training) and Molly Malone’s hotel (public challenge event).

Fresh Science North Queensland was supported by James Cook University and the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

Contact: Michael Sheridan, James Cook University,+61 413 679 878,,

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