The majority of changes implemented by the new Food Act 2014 come into effect over a three year transition period after 1 March 2016. Food retailers and food service businesses should begin developing systems to ensure compliance with the new requirements.

The new Act governs food safety processes for the commercial production, sale and trade of food products. This can range from growing crops and the food manufacturing process, to the preparation and sale of food in shops, cafes and restaurants.

Under the new Act businesses will be categorised on a sliding scale of food safety requirements ranging from low risk to high risk. This is an improvement on previous requirements under which all businesses were treated the same. This meant a dairy operator reheating meat pies had the same requirements as the meat pie manufacturer.

High risk food sectors, such as businesses that prepare and sell meals, must operate under a Food Control Plan (FCP). Businesses that handle and sell foods, but do not make or prepare them are classified as moderate risk and must operate under pre-set National Programmes. Finally, lower risk food sectors, such as accommodation providers selling pre-packaged snacks, need not operate under a FCP or a National Programme.

You should begin thinking about what category of risk your business will fall under. Currently the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) is developing regulations, tools and guidance which will assist businesses in understanding the new requirements. You may wish to take the opportunity before 31 March 2015 to be involved in the consultation processes and make a submission to MPI on the new food safety systems.

What can businesses do to prepare?

When MPI releases its guidelines and advice, which will include a template FCP, each business should consider how they will comply with the requirements under the Act. There are a few things that can be done in advance:

Where a business already operates a food safety programme that is registered with MPI or a local council, the programme will be deemed to be a FCP under the new Act. Businesses have an opportunity to voluntarily register their programmes in advance, so as to ease their transition into the new Act before stricter infringement penalties for non-compliance come into effect. Businesses could see this as a trial run and a chance to get approved systems in place at an early stage.

The new Act will require staff operating under a FCP to demonstrate competency in relation to the safety and suitability of food, food production, and food processing and handling. This will involve staff undergoing appropriate training and the business retaining proof of that training. Employers should consider introducing into employment contracts a requirement that staff complete such mandatory training as the employer directs to ensure compliance with the businesses’ FCP.

While the food industry will not see the full impact of the new Act for some years these changes may have a significant impact upon businesses. Given this impact, it is important that the industry plays an active role in how the Act will be implemented through MPI and that businesses start anticipating how the changes will affect them.

This post was published in the FMCG Business magazine