Stricter requirements for importers of food into New Zealand came into effect at the start of this month.

Changes clarify the role and responsibilities of importers when they bring food into the country.

Food importers must conduct a safety and suitability assessment before the food enters New Zealand, make sure food is stored and transported in a safe way, keep proper records for at least four years, and have a recall plan in case anything goes wrong.

Importers who fail to follow safety rules can face fines of $500,000 ($304,000) for a company, while an individual can be fined $100,000 ($60,800) and jailed for up to two years.

Ensuring safer food imports
Vincent Arbuckle, New Zealand Food Safety deputy director-general, said the move would make food from abroad safer for consumers.

“Most food importers won’t have to make any changes to comply with the new rules, some will have to make minor tweaks, and a small number will have to dramatically improve their procedures,” he said.

“Food importers have always had to ensure their food is safe and suitable; the new rules provide them with clarity on what they need to do to meet their responsibilities.

“We’re sure importers and retailers would like to avoid expensive recalls, like those seen recently with frozen berries and tahini, and complying with these new rules will help them to ensure their food is safe and minimize the likelihood of things going wrong. This means that consumers can be confident that all imported food is subject to consistently high safety standards.”

New Zealand Food Safety began consultations with industry about the revised rules in June 2022 and has been in contact since with importers. Changes were detailed in a previously issued food notice.

All shipments are checked at the border. Unregistered importers will have consignments held until they obtain food importer registration. Some foods present a greater risk to consumers, these are known as foods of high regulatory interest or foods of increased regulatory interest.

These items require food safety clearance and are monitored for specific hazards. 

Requirements follow rules that came into force in July, stating that most businesses have to do a simulated food recall every year. It applies to all firms with a plan or program under the food, wine, or animal products Acts. It also covers food importers and exporters.

The first simulated recall must be done by June 30, 2024, and once every 12 months afterward, unless the company was involved in a genuine recall that shows traceability and procedures were effective.

Updated Salmonella rules
In other developments, chicken producers in the commercial supply chain must have a registered risk management program (RMP) no later than November 2023 to manage the risk of Salmonella Enteritidis.

An RMP is a documented program designed to identify and control hazards in relation to the production and processing of animal materials and products, monitoring and record-keeping and actions if something goes wrong.

The new rules apply to those who produce breeder chickens, day-old chicks (hatcheries), fertile eggs from breeder chickens, layer chickens, rearer laying chickens, and broiler (meat) chickens. They do not cover producers with less than 100 birds that sell chickens or fertile-eggs direct to the consumer or end user only.

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