Australian regulators have opened a comment period on proposed new food safety management standards for foodservice operators and retail businesses.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ)’s preferred approach is to change the rules to require a food safety supervisor on staff, food handler training and to ensure businesses can provide evidence to substantiate food safety management.

An assessment found food service outlets have caused a large proportion of foodborne illness, and continue to be a significant source. Up to 3.2 million cases are linked to the foodservice and retail sectors and this is estimated to cost the Australian economy AUD $1.5 billion (U.S $1.1 billion) per year. Between 2010 and 2017, these sectors were the source of 9,497 cases of illness, 1,914 hospitalizations and 56 deaths.

Sandra Cuthbert, interim FSANZ CEO, said proposed changes to the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code were designed to strengthen food safety management and introduce national, risk-proportionate standards to reduce rates of foodborne illness.

“The majority of businesses do an excellent job in providing Australians with safe food, however our assessment of food safety management practices in the sector has found a need for strengthened standards to ensure greater consistency and reduce rates of foodborne illness. The proposed changes will help food businesses enhance their food safety management practices, delivering safer food to consumers and supporting improved business and consumer confidence,” she said.

Some Australian jurisdictions already have additional requirements to support safe food handling and have seen improved food safety behaviors.

Three risk levels
FSANZ grouped businesses into three categories. Companies such as caterers, restaurants, takeaways and retailers who make and serve potentially hazardous food (PHF) fall into category 1 and are associated with the highest food safety risks. These firms would be subject to the three regulatory measures.

Such food must be temperature controlled to minimize bacterial growth and prevent toxin formation. It is often served ready-to-eat or raw and does not undergo further cooking.

Retailers of unpackaged ready-to-eat PHF are considered category 2 businesses and would need a food safety supervisor and food handler training for employees. Retailers of pre-packaged ready-to-eat PHF, which remains packaged during sale, are in category 3 and face no rule changes.

Issues include inadequate cleaning of equipment, cross contamination from raw ingredients, insufficient cooking, food left at room temperature, and inadequate refrigeration.

Cuthbert said the approach aims to provide the greatest impact on reducing foodborne illness in foodservice and retail settings without a regulatory burden.

“Businesses will fall into one of three categories, with those associated with high food safety risks required to apply more food safety measures than those with lower risks,” she said.

“FSANZ considers these requirements are appropriate and practical, can be readily implemented in the relevant sector, and are able to be maintained over time. Regulatory measures would be supported by food safety culture initiatives and an education campaign for businesses and environmental health officers.”

There has already been a related comment period in February and March 2020. All FSANZ proposals to develop or update standards are reported to ministers responsible for food regulation. They can ask for a review or agree that they should become law.

Feedback is open until April 11. If the measures are approved, businesses and food regulators will have 12 months to implement them.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)