Keeping our food safe
The provisions of the Food Act 2014 will come into effect from February 28 next year.
Fruit and vegetable producers not covered by existing good agricultural practice certification schemes; NZGAP, GLOBALG.A.P. and British Retail Consortium (BRC) are being urged to comply with the Food Act 2014.
They can do this by either becoming certified to G.A.P. or registering for the Food Act via their territorial authority.
Four meetings were held around the country during November to get the message across about what the act means, why it’s necessary and how it will work. At the last meeting, at Pukekohe, Simon Holst, a senior adviser with Food Safety’s food and beverage team, said the legislation was all about trying to stop New Zealanders getting sick.
“This is the first big change to the legislation since the 1980s,” he said.
“And more people are getting sick from food-borne illnesses every year, not less.”
Internationally producers were being more affected by food safety problems. Listeria in rock melons had caused deaths in Australia earlier in the year and there had been a huge United States recall of lettuce over the Thanksgiving holiday.
“Things can go wrong,” he said.
“But we don’t expect people to control things they can’t.”
Previously food hygiene regulations had focused on where food preparation was carried out.
“But that’s not the most important factor, that’s people’s behaviour.” The new legislation took a ‘farm to fork’ approach, tracing the food back to where it was produced as the earlier there was control the better. And it was risk-based, working on the assumption that a simple business had few risks to manage, but the situation was completely different for larger ones.
“Growing and selling produce is low risk,” he said.
“But when things are done they can’t be undone later, such as irrigating dirty water on to lettuces.”
The act applied at high risk levels, such as where food was being prepared for resthome residents. But in the mid to lowrisk areas producers were often covered by national plans to which they already belonged.
The regulations did not apply to fund-raising activities or the sale of produce direct to the public through a roadside stall or online.
“They don’t have to register under the Food Act 2014, but it doesn’t mean they’re exempt from it,” he said.
“They still have to produce safe and suitable food.”
Producers could check the “Where do I fit in?” tool on the Food Safety website, which was more user-friendly than previously, to find out what was required of them. They would be asked a set of yes/no questions before an outcome was reached. A series of videos had also been produced which could be watched on the website or searched for on YouTube.
Simon said it was the third and final year of the transition to implementation of the act, with high-risk businesses having being targeted first with a move now into a tidying up phase.
We don’t want anyone to panic,” he said.
“We’re not waving big sticks yet. We want you to get registered.”
Chris Hewins, a specialist adviser for Food Safety in the retail area, said there was more flexibility in the new regulations than there had been previously.
“You used to have to register every premise, but now it’s just one application,” he said.
The plan was for all affected businesses to apply to be registered under the act by November 30, with the final deadline being February 28 next year.They have a year from then to be verified with different verification periods being required for different types of business. For example, a National Programme Level 1 (NP1) horticultural business would only need to have a one-
off verification, with there being no further visits unless there was a particular problem or a significant change to the business’s systems. But a confectionery manufacturer, who would come under a National Programme Level 2 (NP2) could need more regular visits and a corner dairy, while one coming under a National Programme Level 3 (NP3) could expect to be verified every couple of years.
Chris said a remote verification programme was being looked at where the process could be carried out by livestreaming rather than a personal visit.
“That could be available in the next six months but it won’t suit everyone,” he said.
Some operations are exempt from the Food Act, and applying for an exemption was open to any business. Some examples of horticultural producers who would be exempt were where they produce and sell food, just once a year. This could be the situation where people had nut trees on their property and once a year gathered the nuts off the ground to be sold.
“But if they are actively tending the trees that’s regarded as trading food over a year,” Simon said.
And they might not be able to run any animals under the trees for six weeks before harvest, as there had been instances of nut contamination from deer faeces in the US.
While producers selling through their own stall or farmers’ market were exempt, this did not apply if they were only selling to one shop or stall – it had to be owned by them.
A tab on the Food Safety website explained which operations could be exempt, based on size and scale and how the business was managed. Exemptions lasted for three years, but any change of ownership of the business meant another application would be required.
All exemption applications would be looked at on a case by case basis. For example, a business producing 80 litres of olive oil annually wouldn’t need to register, and incur the costs involved.
“We not trying to reduce the diversity of products people can buy,” he said.
“It comes down to being proactive. It’s all about managing the risks that apply to your business.”
“The new legislation took a ‘farm to fork’ approach, tracing the food back to where it was produced as the earlier there was control the better.”