Businesses in New Zealand have been given the option of using three tools designed to make it easier to follow the rules and keep consumers safe.

Damien O’Connor, Food Safety Minister, launched remote verification, “My Food Rules” and “My Food Plan” this past week. They were co-designed with businesses, councils and verifiers to reflect a modern approach to food safety regulation.

Remote verification option
Traditionally, a verifier visits a business for information and to seek assurance that the way they are managing risks from potential food safety hazards, such as bugs, chemicals and objects, is consistently able to produce safe food. With remote verification, the verifier uses technology for these assurances about food safety and suitability, and doesn’t physically go to the business.

Businesses in distant parts of the country contacted New Zealand Food Safety to express concern about costs associated with verification. More than 1,000 firms operate in districts where there is no local verifier. However, businesses need to meet certain rules such as good compliance history and not exporting food so not all qualify for remote verification.

Bryan Wilson, deputy director-general at New Zealand Food Safety, said food safety is about people and everyone has a role to play.

“At the heart of these innovations was listening to what people need, and finding the simplest way to provide it, with a particular focus on removing compliance challenges faced by small and regional domestic food businesses,” he said.

“Remote verification is believed to be a world-first for regulatory food safety, which will reduce the need for verifiers to travel to businesses in regional, rural or other hard-to-reach locations. Using Skype on a smartphone or other device, remote verification could save remote food businesses substantial time and cost.”

A food operator connects with their verifier via Skype. The businesses operator needs a device such as a smartphone, tablet or laptop with camera and voice communication; a broadband connection, and the Skype app.

Custom food control plans
“My Food Rules” and “My Food Plan” change the functionality of online food business registration. The former is a 15 minute questionnaire that helps people find food safety rules for their type of business. It is based on the type of food a company wants to make and how it wants to make it.

The latter is pre-evaluated material to help businesses manage food safety. Firms needs to pay to register with the Ministry for Primary Industries and renew each year. It means agreeing to follow limits such as time temperature cooking combinations, conditions or options in the plan. If firms want to do things a different way they will need to develop their own plan and have it evaluated.

For new businesses, a verifier must visit within three months of registration. This period is six months for existing businesses. Frequency of visits depends on how well food safety is being managed. It could be once every 18 months if it is managed well or every three months if it is not.

” ‘My Food Rules’ is the fastest and easiest way for food businesses to find out what food rules they need to follow – the right plan or program, the right registration authority and the right verifier,” said Wilson.

“An output of ‘My Food Rules’ is the new, custom food control plan option for businesses who make high-risk foods and need to have a plan that covers multiple Food Act registrations – called ‘My Food Plan.’ This is a game-changer for food businesses, because instead of potentially spending up to NZ $25,000 (U.S. $16,600) and up to nine months developing a custom plan from scratch, they can have a pre-evaluated My Food Plan that can be registered within 20 days.”

Auckland food safety plans
Meanwhile, Auckland Council’s governing body has approved proposed changes to the existing food safety bylaw for public consultation in early 2020. Phil Goff, Auckland Mayor, said proposed changes will help protect the public’s health when dining at cafes, restaurants, takeaways and other establishments.

“Aucklanders expect a high level of food safety from restaurants and other food businesses, and the proposed improvements to the food safety bylaw will help incentivize businesses to maintain high standards,” he said.

The plans will require a food grade to be displayed until it expires, or a new one is issued; demand it is displayed in specified locations visible to the public prior to entering a premises; and make businesses display their food grades online.

Councilor Linda Cooper, chair of the regulatory committee, said with the bylaw due to expire in May 2020 the council looked at what was working and what could be improved.

“Under the current bylaw, 6,712 Auckland-only based restaurants, cafés, bars, and takeaways serving food to the public are required to display a food grade. It is working, and it will continue, alongside a new proposed bylaw requirement to display food grades online. We are also looking at improvements to make the rules for displaying food grades clearer and to ensure the bylaw remains consistent with the requirements of Food Act.”

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