New law for food businesses from 1 March

3 March 2016

A new law for all businesses that sell food comes into effect across the country tomorrow (Tuesday 1 March). In Wellington City, the law change will affect about 1800 businesses.

“The Food Act 2014 aims to modernise and simplify food safety procedures. It will make it easier for businesses to make sure their food is safe,” says Helen Jones, Wellington City Council’s Public Health Manager.

From tomorrow, anyone who starts a business that involves food must follow the new law. This includes anything from restaurants to corner dairies, market stalls, craft brewers, food trucks or internet cake sellers.

The new law applies to a wide range of businesses, and includes any which make, sell, grow or transport food commercially. This includes those who serve food as part of their business, like education providers or care homes for example.

Existing businesses also need to make changes although they have longer to do so.

Depending on the type of business, owners and managers will have up to three years to transition over to the new rules. Higher-risk food producers (restaurants and cafes that also sell alcohol) will be the first to ‘transition over’.

Ms Jones says businesses seeking information about the new law should visit the Ministry for Primary Industries website and use ‘Where do I fit?’

She says the new law is designed to help businesses and consumers. It moves from a one-size-fits-all approach, to one that regulates businesses according to risk. This will help keep regulation and costs down for many businesses, especially lower-risk businesses, like those that grow fruit and vegetables or sell only pre-packed food.

“It also offers businesses greater flexibility. People can sell food they have made at home, for example, but must meet the same food safety standards as other businesses. 

“By focusing on what’s most important to food safety, the law will help ensure safer food for consumers. At the same time, keeping costs down for businesses will also keep costs down for consumers.

“The new law also introduces other measures to help businesses keep time and costs down. For example, those who manage food safety well will need less-frequent checks.

Although the new law starts today, existing food businesses don’t have to make changes straight away. They will move over to the new Act at different times over a three-year transition period.

Businesses should visit www.mpi.govt.nz/foodact to find out what they need to do.

Ms Jones says business owners will face a change in inspection regimes and will be required to keep their own records on how they are producing safe and suitable food and show these to inspectors when they visit. This will be by way of a food control plan (higher-risk foods/menus – eg restaurants, cafes, caterers, hotels) or compliance with national programme requirements (lower risk – for example home-made biscuits at a coffee cart).

She adds that the new laws should not increase compliance costs for well-run food premises but that will also depend on the ‘risk category’ of the type of food being produced. Good operators could be visited by a health inspector as little as once every 18 months - which should help keep costs down.

The new law will also make things easier and potentially less-costly for people producing food at home – such businesses no longer need to have a commercial kitchen set-up – they can use their own kitchen as long as they can satisfy a health inspector that they are complying with the rules for producing safe and suitable food.

A proposed new fee structure that stems from the Food Act will form part of Wellington City Council’s 2016-17 Annual Plan consultation process – with submissions accepted between 1 and 29 April.