After a long journey through the parliamentary process, the Food Bill 2010
has unanimously passed its third reading. The focus of the new Food Act is on
modernising and reforming New Zealand food law to implement a flexible, cost
effective and risk-based approach to food safety and management. The Act
recognises that different businesses and industries will have different levels
of risk depending on the nature of the food they deal with and the activities
they undertake. The new Food Act allows for the compliance measures businesses
follow to be tailored accordingly.
The one-size-fits all approach under the Food Act 1981 has not worked
effectively for some time, and businesses and local authorities have been
operating under ad hoc and temporary measures waiting for comprehensive
legislation to be introduced that allows for a more tailored and flexible
approach to risk management and food safety. Currently more than 6,000
businesses are operating under transitional risk based programmes including Food
Control Plans and Food Safety Programmes. The new legislation will make
programmes such as these mandatory after the transition period.
The focus of the Act is on improving:
The primary duty of all persons handling food will be to make sure that it is
safe and suitable. Good food handling practices will be mandatory for all medium
and high risk businesses. Low risk organisations and activities will have
information made available to them regarding safe food handling practices, and
these lower risk organisations may comply with higher standards followed by
other organisations if they choose to do so.
The Ministry for Primary Industries will maintain a central register of
businesses operating under Food Control Plans and National Programmes. The
compliance measures each business must follow will depend upon the risk level of
that particular business or industry. Much of the detail of what these
programmes and plans will involve will be determined through regulations, so it
is important that businesses take an active role in determining what level of
regulation is appropriate for their industry, and make sure this is communicated
to Government when public consultation on these regulations occurs.
The Act will considerably strengthen the Government’s enforcement powers.
Penalties for breaching the Act have been increased to up to $100,000 for
individuals and five years imprisonment, and $500,000 for organisations. Food
safety officers will be given greater powers to inspect and search food
businesses and dwellings where food is prepared, and will be able to issue
infringement notices, which are an intermediate measure between warning letters
and court action. Enforcement and compliance checks are also likely to be
risk-based, with lower risk businesses being checked less frequently than higher
risk organisations. It has also been suggested that if a business is shown to be
compliant when it is checked, it will be checked less often in the future than a
business would be where deficiencies are found. Importantly, it will now be the
actual food handling practices that are assessed, rather than just the premises
where food is stored and handled.
Initial concerns regarding the legislation from some sectors have been
addressed by amendments from the Select Committee and the Minister. The
amendments made it clear that seeds for propagation were not covered under the
Act, food handler guidance programmes for low risk businesses were made
voluntary, a ‘Good Samaritan clause’ was included for businesses that donate
food in good faith, and gifting and donating food to others was expressly
permitted in the version of the Bill that was passed.
Overall, the Food Act 2014 represents a major (and long overdue) step forward
in New Zealand’s food law, and should allow for a more tailored, flexible and
cost effective approach to food safety in the future. To make the most of the
new legislation, businesses should begin thinking about the level of food safety
regulation that will be most appropriate for the activities and industry they
are involved in, so that they can take a pro-active role in assisting with the
development of regulations under the Act once consultation begins.
This publication is necessarily brief and general in nature. You should seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters dealt with in this publication.