In the past six months, food businesses in Metropolitan and Greater Western Sydney committed the most food safety law breaches in NSW, which landed them in the NSW Food Authority’s infamous penalty register. Bakeries, seafood stores and restaurants were reported to have failed to take important food safety measures, such as pest control, adequate cleaning and maintenance of equipment, and proper preparation, storage and display of food.

Recently, a poultry-producing company was fined $40,000 for transporting chicken meat intended for sale on rusted and corroded trolleys and benches. Inspectors also found unclean equipment and utensils, staff change rooms without soap, and rubbish and cigarette butts on site, which prompted them to prosecute the company on 12 charges.

Background

Food regulation has an integral role in ensuring food is safe for consumption and consumers are adequately informed before they make a purchase. Each year the NSW Food Authority responds to 36,000 calls and complaints from consumers and industry personnel, which, if serious, are recorded into the ‘name and shame’ register. NSW Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair said the register was established in response to growing concerns from consumers who are demanding to know whether food is being safely prepared and served. Blair stated that the register gives consumers confidence and certainty when choosing where to dine by giving access to information that will influence their decision-making.

Moreover, CEO of the NSW Food Authority, Dr Lisa Szabo said to the Sydney Morning Herald food businesses have an obligation to:

  • Keep their premises clean and properly maintained;
  • Ensure their food is safe and suitable for human consumption; and
  • Comply with the standards in the NSW Food Act.

However, statistics reveal an average of 1,567 penalties are consistently issued each year, and 1,000 investigations for breaches and prosecutions are conducted by the government authority. The most common food safety breaches in the past financial year were:

  1. Cleanliness of food premises (21 per cent);
  2. Storage and temperature control (16 per cent);
  3. Pest control (13 per cent);
  4. Hygiene of food handlers (13 per cent); and
  5. Cleanliness of fixtures, fittings and equipment (12 per cent).

How Can Consumers Make A Food Complaint?

If you encounter a food business who has questionable food safety standards, you are able to make a complaint to the NSW Food Authority. Generally, the Food Authority works with local councils to investigate complaints and achieve the best outcome for consumer safety. There are certain types of complaints that can be made:

  • Suspected food poisoning;
  • Unhygienic or incorrect food handling, storage, transport or preparation;
  • Foreign matter in food;
  • Allergens not listed in ingredients;
  • Misleading or incompleted labelling;
  • Spoilage;
  • Unsuitable or unsafe ingredients; and
  • Unlicensed sale or serving of food.

Be aware the Food Authority or local councils may handle complaints that are not about food or sale, insufficient information is provided and/or are vengeful or not made in good faith. Each complaint made is logged and considered depending on whether the situation will, or have potential to, cause serious harm, or patterns of similar incidents that suggest ongoing or broader issues. The Food Authority and local councils may refer your complaints depending on the issue and the organisation it concerns. For example, you must call the local council where the food business is located, fill out a food complaint form or contact the Food Authority by phone, letter or email.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, there is a Food Standards Code, and strict requirements and laws governing the food industry. Business owners that fail to comply with their responsibilities, will be caught out by NSW councils that carry out more than 61,000 inspections each year.

Let us know your thoughts on whether you think there should be tougher food safety requirements and laws by tagging us at #lawpath or @lawpath.

Fiona Lu

Fiona is a Paralegal working in our content team which aims to provide free legal guides to facilitate public access to legal resources. With an interest in information, media, consumer and employment law, her primary focus is on how technology will affect the future of the legal industry.