Food safety shake-up for NZ restaurant inspection

New Zealand restaurants and food service outlets feed 1.5 million people daily.
Food safety is an integral part of this experience. It’s a competitive advantage and an absolute necessity for one of the country’s cornerstone industries; it’s a customer’s expectation and right to buy food, enjoy it and live to tell the tale.

So says Steve Mackenzie, chief executive of the Restaurant Association of New Zealand, writing in the New Zealand Herald.

But the hospitality business is about to get a shake up by way of a long-awaited Food Bill that will focus on food safety. The intent of the bill is to move food regulation in line with other developed countries, by shifting from an inspection-based system to a risk-based approach.

Whereas the present system involves an environmental health officer calling unannounced and touring the premises, the new operations will involve proprietor records, premise inspection and interviews with staff.

The Restaurant Association of New Zealand represents a select group of hospitality businesses and has been involved in consultation and pilot-testing of this new programme. Most association members support the new bill.

Members who participated in trials reported that they liked having control and accountability of their business back in their hands.

Simple documentation procedures, one handy manual covering all food safety aspects and clear guidelines for staff were also useful. In many cases the proposed changes were less onerous than the current programmes.

But with less than 12 months until transition, more than 90 per cent of the country’s eateries haven’t registered. That’s around 13,500 businesses.

A survey in April that confirmed the association’s worst fears: many business operators will wait until the last minute to make changes.

Worse still, many are not aware the changes are coming, and even those who were aware that the review was taking place, more than 55 per cent had little knowledge of the impact that this would have on their businesses in less than a year.

And despite knowing that there is proposed change, 60 per cent of those surveyed have made little or no preparation.

The biggest hurdle as we have seen in our survey results is awareness. There are many businesses that simply do not know they need to make changes.

The association recommends that the select committee working on the bill considers extending the first year transition of high-risk businesses from 12 months to 24, to ensure that under-resourced councils will be able to properly assist with implementation.