Go to:

Kate Wilkinson

22 September, 2009

Outdated Food Act to be replaced

The Government will undertake a complete overhaul of the Food Act 1981 to make it more relevant to New Zealand businesses and consumers, Minister for Food Safety Kate Wilkinson announced today.

"The Food Act is outdated and our current regulatory system is ineffective and inefficient. As a consequence it imposes unnecessary compliance costs and doesn't do enough to protect consumers and reduce food-borne illness," Ms Wilkinson says.

"The new Food Bill has been developed over the past two years and it will be revised to improve business certainty and reduce compliance costs.

"It will also be aligned with the New Zealand Standard platform, which provides the basis for our food exports.

"Moving to a risk-based system that offers greater protection for consumers will help address gaps in the law as well as duplication."

The new Food Bill is expected to be introduced to Parliament within the next year and be in place by late 2010 or early 2011.

Proposed changes include:

  •  - provision of an enhanced imported food regime;

  • - mandated risk based tools and a shift in onus of responsibility from Government to food business operators;

  • - clarification of the New Zealand Standard for all food sold within, and exported from, New Zealand;

  • - providing for a national restaurant grading system;

  • - replacement of the Food Hygiene Regulations 1974; and

  • - improvement of penalty provisions.

The food sector has an estimated annual turnover of $22 billion and employs more than 20 percent of working New Zealanders.

Food accounts for exports of $18 billion and this is expected to continue to grow over the next 10 years with the support of a new Act.

A copy of the Cabinet paper can be found at www.nzfsa.govt.nz.

Questions and Answers

Why make changes to New Zealand Food Law?

New Zealand's food regulatory regime has not been thoroughly reviewed for over 30 years. NZFSA has reviewed the systems and found the current domestic food system suffers from:

  • duplication and gaps in laws with consequential costs for food businesses. For example forty (55%) local councils have bylaws to address gaps in the existing food regulatory regimes. The most common are for compulsory training and/or qualifications for food handlers, provisions for closures and specific premises types (eg, food stalls, mobile traders), and licensing and registration requirements;

  • lack of clarity in the roles of the regulators involved (NZFSA and councils);

  • lack of common understanding of good hygienic practice and other key concepts; and

  • the absence of risk-based assessment.

How will the new law fix the problems?

NZFSA intends to move food regulation, along with most other developed countries, from an inspection-based system to a risk-based approach. This means that instead of the responsibility for food safety being placed on inspectors to find any problems, responsibility is moved to the person in charge of the food operation who must be proactive in the way they manage food safety and suitability and must demonstrate how they manage food safety.

How will the new tools work?

All food operators will use one of three new tools to help them manage food safety and suitability. Which tool a particular sector will use will depend on factors such as risk, the likely impact of an adverse food safety event, economic efficiency and the capability of regulated parties to develop and implement the tools. The tools are:

1. Food Control Plans - either off-the-peg or custom-made for businesses which pose a high risk to consumers or have a wide impact (eg, restaurants, takeaways, manufacturers of foods for high risk groups). Off-the-peg Food Control Plans will be written by NZFSA for sectors where processes are similar across the sector (eg, restaurants). Custom-made Food Control Plans will be used for larger   and more complex operations. NZFSA will provide guidance about what should be covered by these plans.

2. National Programmes - a set of requirements placed across all or part of a particular sector. There will be up to four levels of National Programmes for businesses that generally pose a low to medium risk to consumers. National Programmes will set out high level outcomes for a sector and will not require tailoring for individual businesses.

3. Food Handler Guidance - educational information that will be used to provide guidance for people in operations which provide a low risk and scope (eg, fundraisers, bed and breakfast businesses).

  • A national restaurant grading scheme will be provided for.

  • Competency requirements will be put on food operators to ensure food handlers know how to handle food safely.

How do you know the tools will be effective?

NZFSA has trialled and piloted several of the tools to ensure their recommendations are reasonable and effective.

The food service (restaurants, café's etc) Food Control Plan was trialled before being released as part of a voluntary scheme in 2008. Following the early trial, which was carried out in conjunction with the Hospitality Association, food operators using it now report the Plan has become an integral part of their business. 

In August 2008 the food service sector Food Control Plan was released on a voluntary basis. This initiative was strongly supported; 68 (out of 73) councils are currently participating in the voluntary system and more than 640 businesses have voluntarily signed up so far.

What will be the role of local councils?

Local councils will provide a 'one stop shop' for all new businesses and will provide advice on the level of tool required to adequately manage food safety and suitability. Local councils will undertake verification (audit) of off-the-peg Food Control Plans and for some business sectors they will be the only verifiers permitted in part to ensure they maintain their current local profile.

How will you know the changes are making a difference?

NZFSA is developing a performance monitoring system. This will be an ongoing programme that determines the effectiveness of the food regulatory regime as a whole against a series of agreed indicators.

Will the changes provide more consumer protection?

Yes, this is the major purpose of the reform. It is proposed to develop a range of public sanction and compliance tools. These range from positive endorsement such as food safety awards, incentive schemes, and performance-based verification to a national grading programme and the publication of businesses' grading results, public apologies and prohibition notices.

  • Kate Wilkinson
  • Food Safety