ISFR meeting outcome – 13 to 14 December 2023

Summary of key discussions and outcomes from the Implementation Subcommittee for Food Regulation (ISFR) meeting held on 13 to 14 December 2023.

Food regulation authorities in Australia and New Zealand work together to ensure food regulations are implemented and enforced consistently. This work is done through the Implementation Subcommittee for Food Regulation (ISFR), through face-to-face meetings (and/or videoconferencing where required), out-of-session business and separate collaborations.

ISFR was set up by the Food Regulation Standing Committee (FRSC) to foster a consistent approach across jurisdictions to implementing, monitoring and enforcing food regulation. ISFR’s role applies equally to imported, exported and domestically produced food.

ISFR members are either heads of agencies or senior operational experts who can make and implement decisions about compliance and enforcement issues in their jurisdictions.

ISFR is not an enforcement authority in its own right. It allows Australian and New Zealand food regulators to discuss common approaches to implementation and develop agreed strategies to achieve a consistent approach to the way food regulations are implemented, interpreted and enforced across jurisdictions.

While all jurisdictions involved in food regulation work together on implementing and enforcing food regulation there are sometimes differences in the way jurisdictions administer food law. Due to ISFR’s consultative nature, collaboration helps jurisdictions to minimise the impact of these differences as much as possible.

Summary of key matters of interest to local government discussed at ISFR25

ISFR25 was held in Canberra on 13 and 14 December 2023. A summary of key items of interest is provided below:

Australia’s Foodborne Illness Reduction Strategy (the Strategy)

Activities under Australia’s national Foodborne Illness Reduction Strategy, preventing and reducing foodborne illness, and protecting the consumer, still remains at the essential core of the Food Regulation System, and work continues as a priority. 

The Strategy focusses on sector-specific initiatives (poultry, eggs, horticulture and food service), food safety culture, consumer and industry information, research, monitoring and surveillance, and national engagement.

Implementation of the Strategy is underway. A scorecard tracking the achievements of the Strategy is available on the Food Regulation System website.

Next steps for the Strategy will be reflected in the wider Food Regulation System’s modernisation process, and incorporated into the strategic plan for 2024 – 2027. 

Planning for the implementation of Horticulture Standards

New primary production and processing Standards were introduced in 2022 (Standards 4.2.7, 4.2.8 and 4.2.9; Proposal P1052), for berries, leafy vegetables and melons. These new requirements will take effect in February 2025. Guidance material, to support implementation, is being developed in collaboration with Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), peak industry bodies, existing (Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) accredited) food safety scheme owners, and government agencies.

Implementation of Food Safety Management Standards

The new FSANZ Food Safety Management tools Standard was approved and gazetted late 2022, with a 12-month period for implementation, which came into effect on 8 December 2023. The new regulatory measures, for food businesses in scope, now include food handler training, food safety supervisor (FSS) requirements; and evidence to substantiate food safety management of key food processes. Tools and guidance materials to improve food safety knowledge, risk management and food safety culture are considered integral to the effectiveness of these new regulatory measures. The implementation working group continues its work throughout the initial implementation period, to assist consistency and monitor future evaluation of the Standard. Further information is available on the FSANZ website, including an update to Safe Food Australia.

Local Government activities and Jurisdiction Reports

Key matters which may be of interest to local government:

Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

ACT Health successfully prosecuted a food business for breaches under the Food Standards Code and the Food Act 2001. The charges involved tampering with food labels, misleading conduct, handling and selling of unsuitable food and conducting an unregistered food business. The business was fined $16,500 for tampering with labels and breaching the Food Standards Code and the Food Act.

A foodborne outbreak occurred during the reporting period. An investigation commenced when ACT Health was notified of six separate groups reporting suspected food poisoning symptoms after eating similar food items from a food business. Investigation of the business found multiple critical non-compliances. A Prohibition Order was issued against the business due to critical food safety beaches. Overall, 22 people were sick and one person was admitted to hospital. Epidemiological and clinical results for four people associated with the outbreak suggested the illness was caused by norovirus infection.

New South Wales (NSW)

Under the Food Regulation Partnership (FRP), NSW continues to work closely with local councils and other enforcement agencies to deliver a high standard of food surveillance activities in the retail and food service sector. Training is based on the needs of the authorised officers and has delivered professional development in respect of the collaborative ‘Dishwasher education and compliance strategy’ plus ‘Food safety management tools’ in advance of the new standard 3.2.2A taking effect. NSW continues to explore all avenues to deliver a shared food inspection data platform. Each enforcement agency lodged their annual food surveillance activity report for the period 1 July 2022 to 30 June 2023. A State summary report has been prepared and is available on the NSW Food Authority website. The retail and foodservice sector achieved a 97% compliance rate for the period. 

South Australia (SA)

South Australia (SA) Health continues to work closely with local government as dual regulators in the food regulation system, including providing support relating to the implementation of Standard 3.2.2A. A workshop for EHOs was hosted by SA Health on 3 November 2023 in readiness for the end of the 12-month implementation period, providing EHOs with the opportunity to ask questions and to trouble shoot common problems.

Queensland (QLD)

2022-2023 financial year annual reporting of local government activities under the Food Act 2006 is currently underway and builds upon improvements implemented earlier in 2023. The latest edition of the Food Under Wraps newsletter provided updates and guidance to local government environmental health officers on the Food Act 2006.  Guidance includes  information on consultations , prosecution findings regarding falsely described food, the new Standard 3.2.2A, the updated Safe Food Australia 2023 guideline, future foods, food safety audits, and prepared fruits and vegetables. 

Tasmania (TAS)

Standard 3.2.2A (Food Safety Management tools) takes effect on 8 December 2023. Local Government EHOs in Tasmania can access implementation tools and information about this new Standard and how it applies to various food business sectors via the PHS-EHO Portal. The portal contains specific guidance information for EHOs about the Standard more generally, and information about the specific application of the standard to differing business types including school canteens, education and care facilities, health care settings. 

Victoria (VIC)

The contract with the vendor to build the FoodTrader platform has been terminated and the Department has decided to build the solution using internal Information Technology (IT) staff. Implementation of the FoodTrader platform (on-line food business registration/ notification portal and backend database) commenced for temporary and mobile food premises from mid June 2023 (Streatrader has been decommissioned). Work on extending the platform to manage fixed food premises is continuing. 

Northern Territory (NT)

The Environmental Health Leadership Group meets monthly and consists of key personnel from the Environmental Health services in Top End and Central Australia. The meeting includes discussion on standards implementation and national considerations.

Western Australia (WA)

WA Health continues to work closely with local government as co-regulators in the food regulation system. WA Health has worked collaboratively with local government to support the consistent implementation of Standard 3.2.2A – Food Safety Management Tools across Western Australia.

New Zealand (NZ)

MPI’s New Zealand Food Safety has agreed a pathway and is on track to complete any remaining work so the Food Act 2014 regulatory tools are fully implemented. NZFS will be working towards finalising and embedding all core regulatory services and systems to support the sustainable delivery of the Food Act 2014, aligned with NZ’s Food Control System, and to ensure the system is delivering upon the Food Act 2014’s objectives.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ)

FSANZ reported it continues to support the Food Regulation System priorities through its work on data sharing & data analytics and non-regulatory tools to support Standard 3.2.2A – Food Safety Management Tools including an update to Safe Food Australia and fact sheets and animations. For the three new primary production and processing standards for berries, leafy vegetables and melons, similar awareness raising tools and guidance material has been updated on the FSANZ website. Work continues on Proposal P1060 Review of the Egg Primary Production and Processing Standard; Health Star Rating system; Branded Food Database; as well as FSANZ modernisation.

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