ISFR meeting outcome – 6 to 7 December 2022

Summary of key discussions and outcomes from the Implementation Subcommittee for Food Regulation (ISFR) meeting held on 6 to 7 December 2022.

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, it helps jurisdictions to minimise the impact of these differences as much as possible.

Summary of key matters of interest to local government discussed at ISFR23

ISFR23 was held in Sydney on 6 and 7 December 2022. A summary of key items of interest is provided.

Australia’s foodborne illness reduction strategy

The Australia’s Foodborne Illness Reduction Strategy 2018-2021+ (the Strategy) launched back in 2018 is ongoing. The Strategy focusses on food safety culture, sector based initiatives (poultry, eggs, horticulture and food service), consumer and industry information, research, monitoring and surveillance, and national engagement.

Implementation of the Strategy is well underway with a scorecard produced at the end of 2021 tracking the achievements of the Strategy.

New horticulture standards

In August 2022 new primary production and processing standards (Standards 4.2.7, 4.2.8 and 4.2.9; Proposal P1052) were introduced for berries, leafy vegetables and melons. These new requirements will take effect in February 2025. Guidance material to support implementation will be developed in collaboration with Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), industry, existing food safety scheme owners and governments.

New food safety management tools standard

In December 2022 new food safety management tools (Standard 3.2.2A; Proposal P1053) were introduced applying new regulatory measures to food service, caterers and food retail businesses that handle potentially hazardous food.

The new regulatory measures are: food handler training; food safety supervisor; and evidence to substantiate food safety management of key processes. There is a 12-month period for implementation with the new requirements planned to take effect in December 2023.

FSANZ is working with jurisdictions responsible for enforcing the new standard on developing tools and support resources such as updates to Safe Food Australia, new food safety info bites and production of animations to raise awareness of the new standard. Tools and guidance to improve food safety knowledge, risk management and food safety culture are considered integral to the effectiveness of these new regulatory measures.

Local government activities and jurisdiction reports

Key matters which may be of interest to local government:

Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

Following a return to food safety inspections post COVID-19 redeployment significant in‑house training has been implemented to ensure consistency and standardisation across the Environmental Health Team.

Significant non-compliance is being observed across food businesses including a lack of cleaning and sanitising, pest control and accessible hand washing facilities. A ready to eat food sampling program has been completed to assess general food safety. Identified non-compliances were followed up with education and resampling.

New South Wales (NSW)

  • Under the Food Regulation partnership the NSW Food Authority continues to work closely with local councils 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 included ‘Food Act investigation tips’, ‘Food safety culture and allergens’ and ‘Food safety management tools’ based on Proposal P1053.
  • Collaborative projects with local councils include the wrap up of the ‘Food notification project’ and the commencement of the ‘Food safety culture/allergen management project’ which assesses a retail food business’s allergen management to measure their food safety culture. This work will contribute to the ISFR Food Safety Culture Working Group developments.
  • The NSW Food Authority 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 2021 to 30 June 2022. A State summary report has been prepared and is available on the NSW Food Authority website.
  • Efforts to reinvigorate the NSW Scores on Doors food safety ratings program involved the review of current resources for enforcement agencies and consumers. As reported by enforcement agencies in their annual activity reports, participation has increased to 69 local councils which captures around 65% of eligible retail food businesses. A renewed engagement and communication strategy coupled with the refreshed resources will be rolled out in an attempt increase participate and awareness of the program.

South Australia (SA)

A joint working group with Local Government and SA Health has been established to assist in the implementation of the new food safety management tools. The working group has been established to manage localised communication and training within South Australia. Training sessions for Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) will commence in February 2023 and targeted virtual information sessions will be offered to food businesses during the implementation period.

Queensland

Queensland Health continues to work with local government to administer and enforce the requirements of the Food Act 2006 and Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code.

The Queensland Health annual report on activities undertaken by local government in 2021‑2022 has been finalised in preparation for publication on the Queensland Health website. Key findings for local governments include:

  • The number of licensed food businesses in Queensland was 32,126 which was a slight decrease to the previous year.
  • The statewide percentage of compliance for food businesses to have a food safety supervisor was 96%.
  • There were approximately 177 employees committed to food regulation, similar to previous years.
  • A 36% increase in improvement notices were issued (3,115 compared to 2,284 in 2020-21).
  • 45 prosecutions were undertaken compared to 49 in the previous year.

The mobile food vehicle register is being revised with the view to becoming a living document able to be accessed by all local governments for updating of licensing information. It is anticipated that the register will be made available for local governments’ access in December 2022.

The Queensland Health digital food safety hub, known as The Food Pantry, has been live for approximately 18 months. This initiative provides food businesses with a streamlined, across government online experience for legislative, licensing and training requirements and includes educational materials such as self-assessment checklists, fact sheets, templates and posters. The Food Pantry continues to gain in popularity with thousands of new users accessing the site monthly.

Tasmania

The Department of Health is focusing significant resources on the implementation of Standard 3.2.2A (Food safety management tools). Initial engagement about the standard has commenced with Local Government Officers. Detailed education/implementation materials for businesses and Local Government EHOs are currently being developed and a series of EHO workshops are currently being planned. These will be held in 2023 in preparation for commencement of the standard.

Victoria

Implementation of the FoodTrader platform (online food business registration/notification portal and backend database) has been delayed due to system build challenges. All Victorian councils will use the platform for the regulatory management of temporary and mobile food premises once the system is fully tested and able to be released, following which Streatrader will be decommissioned.

Northern Territory (NT)

The Environmental Health Leadership Group meets monthly and consists of key personnel from the Environmental Health services in Top End and Alice Springs. Meetings include discussions on standards implementation and national considerations.

Western Australia

The Department of Health Mobile Food Vendor Centralised Register is now live online. This register assists WA local government enforcement agencies manage administration and compliance matters for mobile food businesses including temporary food premises, mobile food operators, market stalls and caterers.

New Zealand

The New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries’ (MPI) New Zealand Food Safety (NZFS) continues to provide oversight of performance of co-regulatory partners (67 Territorial Authorities, 23 third-party verification agencies). Monitoring co-regulatory partners’ performance is predominantly through receiving and analysing reports and information provided by Territorial Authorities and third parties. NZFS currently provides monthly monitoring reports against regulatory service delivery indicators to Territorial Authority’s regulatory managers.

29 (of 67) Territorial Authorities and their 170 verifiers have opted to have their Quality Management System assessed and recognised by MPI to provide contestable verification service for a range of National Programme food service, retail and manufacturing businesses and template Food Control Plan businesses outside council exclusivity. These assessments are contracted to accreditation bodies for reasons of efficiency, capacity and capability and are part of MPI’s oversight of the performance of co-regulatory partners. 

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; Proposals P1052 – Primary Production and Processing Standard for Horticulture, P1053 – Food Safety Management tools and P1060 Review of the Egg Primary Production and Processing Standard; Health Star Rating system Branded Food Database; as well as its work on FSANZ modernisation.

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