Food Act 2014 update

By Anthea Moreham

The controversial Food Act, passed in May 2014, takes effect from 1 March 2016.

The Act changes the current food safety focus from registered food premises to food risk, by creating three levels of risk:

  • High risk: businesses preparing and selling meals must have a registered food control plan to identify and manage food safety risks.
  •  Medium risk: businesses that handle and sell food must comply with one of three national programmes with requirements for producing safe food. These are yet to be set out in regulations – see below how to have your say. This group will have to be registered, keep records and have checks.
  • Low-risk food doesn’t fall within the Act but still needs to be safe and suitable to eat. There’ll be guidance on what this means.



 

Much of the controversy surrounding the Food Bill before it was passed centred on bureaucracy making its way into small-scale food production and retail without any notable public health need. (See Christine Dann, ‘Food Bill folly’ and Steffan Browning, ‘Food Bill blues’ in Organic NZ, March/April 2012).

While the bureaucracy remains, there were some significant wins regarding genetic engineering, seed saving, food sovereignty and in gaining some exemptions from the Act. Organic NZ is disappointed however that country of origin labelling wasn’t included the Act.

How will it apply to me?

The Act only applies to businesses producing or selling food commercially. Sharing and swapping food with friends isn’t covered – that includes food for wwoofers and donated food. Fundraisers like community sausage sizzles are safe from the Act, provided you don’t have more than 20 a year and your bangers are safe and suitable to eat. Selling and saving seeds for propagation isn’t covered by the Act.

Also not covered is producers selling their horticultural produce like fruit, veges and nuts directly to consumers, say at a farmer’s market. But sell that produce via someone else – through a local shop or someone else’s market stall – and it’s deemed medium risk for the producer and retailer.

Processed food carries similar quirks: cake baking is high risk, but bread baking is medium risk, as is the jam maker selling at the local farmers’ market and the market gardener selling ready-to-eat green salads. Selling pre-packaged and ‘shelf stable’ food isn’t covered by the Act.

In some circumstances, businesses can apply for an exemption from the Act’s requirements.

 

What’s happening before 1 March 2016?

Regulations setting many of the finer details behind the Act are still to be written. Consultation on this will start in early 2015 and last about three months (no date had been set at the time of publication). To have your say, register at: www.foodsafety.govt.nz/notification/step1.htm

There’s a three-year transition period for businesses to get registered under the Act, with dates for each type of food business still to be set. See www.foodsafety.govt.nz.



Anthea Moreham is studying Applied Organics at the BHU Organic Training College in Christchurch and previously worked as a lawyer and in the public service.