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Worry Over Private Safety Audits Down Under

Policymakers in New South Wales (NSW) are voicing concern over the recent privatization of food safety inspections by the state government.

Previously, the NSW Food Authority, a government-run agency, conducted strict audits of “high-risk food businesses,” like nursing homes and hospitals, but the recent policy change now allows the agency to hire private auditors to conduct the routine inspections.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported yesterday that advocates for the elderly and the NSW Greens party were especially critical of the move, calling it a bad move for public health in the name of slight cost savings.

“The government is compromising the health and safety of our most vulnerable people,” one advocate told the Herald. “Many people in nursing homes already suffer from poor nutrition because the quality and range of food provided is barely passable. With nursing homes and others now able to shop around for the ‘friendliest’ auditor in town, there will be even greater risk of food poisoning, infection, and poor food.”

According to the Herald, the policy shift will have widespread implications for local food regulation. The paper stipulated the most important changes:

  • Private auditors will not have the power to impose penalties or infringement notices.
  • The new system will apply to businesses or institutions that must obtain a government license to handle food, and be audited regularly.  These include hospitals, aged-care services, dairies, meat, seafood and shellfish handlers and some food vendors.
  • Auditors will examine the storage, preparation and hygiene standards.
  • Auditors must be approved by the government, have a certificate in food science or equivalent and participate in two days of training and assessment.
  • Handlers may choose not to use a private auditor but the new system is supported by the food industry, which says it will be cheaper and more efficient.
  • Private auditors will be required to notify the Food Authority of serious issues.
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