New Zealand Food Safety wants feedback on proposals to strengthen food recalls and improve risk-based plans and programs in the country.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) said the objective is to make improvements to the food safety regulatory system and help protect New Zealand’s reputation as a supplier of safe food. Consultation on the proposals is open until Dec. 7, 2018.

Head of New Zealand Food Safety, Bryan Wilson, said the consultation is about setting clear expectations for businesses in preparation for and during a recall, as well as making food safety requirements clearer and more accessible to all parties.

“Our food safety system is very important to all New Zealanders and has a strong reputation. It works to protect consumers from foodborne illnesses and to ensure food is safe and suitable. A key component of that reputation is that we are continually working to improve it,” he said.

The proposals relate to food and wine produced for human consumption under the Food Act 2014, Animal Products Act 1999 and Wine Act 2003.

Plans would extend the requirement for recall procedures to include all exporters of food, clarify what traceability procedures should cover, require mock recalls to be held annually, adjust how long traceability records should be kept for and how quickly information must be shared during an incident.

Wilson said proposed regulations have origins in the government inquiry into the Whey Protein Concentrate Contamination Incident (WPC Inquiry) in 2013. In August of that year, MPI was notified about batches of WPC that might be contaminated with Clostridium botulinum. Although this was a false alarm, the incident negatively impacted New Zealand’s reputation as a supplier of safe food.

The inquiry found some regulatory and non-regulatory improvements could be made to the country’s system, with most of these now done. They include MPI boosting audit capability and programs including unannounced visits; the Food Safety Science and Research Centre being established and MPI increasing ground presence in key overseas markets such as China.

One of the areas it identified for regulatory improvement was food recalls, said Wilson.

“This is about a business’s ability to quickly trace and recall their products. Food businesses need to maintain readily accessible records of their food inputs and outputs. Another area identified for improvement is risk-based plans and programs – the key tool food businesses use to manage their food safety and suitability risks.”

MPI is also planning a review in November of raw milk sale regulations after more than two years in operation.

The proposed recall requirements will apply to all food businesses that operate under a risk-based plan or program or that import or export food for trade. Changes to risk-based plans and programs apply to firms that operate under a custom risk-based plan or program.

Wilson said it wants to find the most effective way to improve recalls and risk-based plans and programs based on lessons learned from the WPC incident.

“Adopting these requirements will decrease the impact of any unsafe food on consumers and also reduce costs during a food safety incident. We also want to avoid placing unnecessary compliance burdens on businesses, and we are consulting to understand what the impacts of these proposals would be on businesses.”

Once the consultation has closed, MPI will make recommendations to the minister for food safety and to the cabinet. A summary of submissions and analysis will be available on the MPI website. Subject to cabinet approval of the final proposals, a set of draft regulations will be prepared.

The transition period would be six months for risk management program operators, nine months for food control plan operators and 12 months for the national programme and wine standards management plan operators and all other food businesses.

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