Do you operate a business which makes, serves, sells or trades food commercially? If so you should be turning your mind to changes under the new Food Act 2014 and what those changes will mean for your business.

The Food Act 2014 (”the Act”) was passed on 6 June 2014 and is set to replace the old Food Act 1981 from 1 March 2016. From that date the Act will apply to all new food businesses and a staggered three year transition period will apply to existing businesses between 2016 and 2019.

The Act aims to make it easier and less costly for many businesses while simultaneously ensuring food is produced safely and is suitable for sale. The central feature of the Act is that it now applies a sliding scale risk-based approach where businesses that are ‘higher risk’ in terms of food safety will operate under more stringent food safety requirements and checks than lower risk food businesses. This approach moves away from the old one-size-fits-all approach and should make life easier for many business owners.

Given the central feature of the Act, the most important first step for business owners is to ascertain where your business sits on the risk-scale. The Ministry for Primary Industries has developed a tool to help business owners work out where their food business sits within the new Food Act rules and business owners should use that tool to work out which specific rules and regulations will apply to their business.

Higher risk food businesses (such as restaurants, or shops that sell raw meat or seafood) will be required to operate a written individualised Food Control Plan where businesses identify food safety risks and the steps they need to take to manage these risks. The Ministry will create and provide template plans that businesses may use and you can tailor these to suit your business or develop your own plan. Businesses will need to register their plan annually and there will be annual checks to make sure that, in practice, the plan is being followed.

Lower risk food activities (including selling packaged food products, serving hot beverages and making honey or jam) will operate under one of the three levels of National Programmes and the Ministry is developing guidelines to assist businesses in meeting the regulatory requirements. All businesses operating under a National Programme will need to apply to their local council to register their business details, keep records and have periodic checks to ensure that food is being produced, sold and served safely.

If you import food into New Zealand you will need to register your importing details with the Ministry or use a registered importer.

Importantly, while the Act sets out the framework of a sliding scale risk-based approach, the detail will be in the regulations, which are set to come into effect by 1 March 2016. The regulations are intended to be outcome based, rather than prescribing the means by which standards are achieved. Nonetheless, they are set to be extremely comprehensive and businesses should be ready to adapt and comply in accordance with the transition timetable. The Act and forthcoming regulations will mean changes for all food business operating in New Zealand starting from 1 March 2016. Businesses should be considering where they will sit on the risk-scale, whether they will need a Food Control Plan or to operate under a National Programme and whether they are ready to adapt. To assist in the transition businesses should make use of the templates and tools the Ministry is preparing and should contact the Ministry with questions regarding requirements and compliance.

This post was published in the FMCG Business magazine.