The NSW oyster industry is considered among the world's best for cultivated oyster production in terms of both quality and food safety.
One of the key drivers of the industry’s high reputation for food safety is its tight abidance to regulations set by the Australian Shellfish Quality Assurance Program and the work of NSW DPI. Given the classification of oysters as a high-risk food, producers are held to strict production guidelines that ensure proactive management of any microbial or pathological on-farm risks. Specifically, a number of these guidelines use detailed laboratory testing to measure the microbiological integrity of estuary waterways following risk events such as rainfall or waterway exposure to contaminants.
Whilst this process has proved effective in delivering safe and nutritious oysters to-date, there can be up to a 7 day delay associated with waiting for laboratory tests, which acts as a major processing inefficiency to the operations of these oyster enterprises. This testing process conducted by regulators has been shown to cost the industry up to 82 harvest days each year in NSW. This represents a significant burden to operational and financial management, and in some cases these closures have been shown to cost growers up to $100,000 per day in lost revenues during key sales periods.
This project hopes to alleviate these costly delay periods by exploring more efficient, data-driven methods for regulating the microbiological integrity of estuary waterways. Early research has suggested that environmental metrics such as water salinity and temperature have demonstrated a close correlation to the presence of harmful fungi or bacteria, so these environmental metrics pose a suitable measure for regulators to enforce farm closures.
It is the aim of this project then to create specific numerical models to track the relationship between food safety of oysters and environmental metrics (salinity and temperature) by conducting extensive field testing on farms across coastal NSW. The use of precise real-time sensors provided by The Yield to measure these metrics will be coupled with weekly sampling of biological water quality by researchers from the University of Technology Sydney. Oversight by NSW Fisheries and the NSW Food Authority (DPI) will further mean that the regulatory uptake of findings will be well facilitated.
The first stage of this project was a series of farmer engagement workshops and sensor installations which took place in June 2018. The key takeaways from these workshops can be viewed at https://www.foodagility.com/posts/nsw-oyster-faqs.