Keep­ing our food safe

The pro­vi­sions of the Food Act 2014 will come into ef­fect from Fe­bru­ary 28 next year.

The Orchardist - - >>news - By Glenys Chris­tian

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.”

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