What is the Food Act 2003 (NSW): What You Need to Know

What is the Food Act 2003 (NSW)?

Whether you’re a restaurant owner, a food manufacturer, or a small-scale producer, you already know that success in the industry goes beyond perfecting recipes and crafting delectable dishes. It hinges on your ability to navigate the intricate web of regulations and standards that govern food safety and hygiene. 

Food can cause illness to consumers if it isn’t handled properly or if proper food safety measures aren’t adhered to. One of the key pillars of this responsibility is compliance with the Food Act 2003 in New South Wales (NSW)., if your business exists in New South Wales. 

In this post, we will delve into the significance of the Food Act 2003 NSW for food business, shedding light on why compliance with this legislation is not just a legal obligation but also a cornerstone of building trust, reputation, and success in the competitive world of food entrepreneurship. 

So, let’s dive in and uncover why the Food Act 2003 is an indispensable tool for every food business owner in NSW.

Table of Contents

What is the Food Act 2003 (NSW)?

The Food Act 2003 is a legislation in the state of New South Wales (NSW), Australia, that governs and regulates the handling, processing, sale, and distribution of food. It is designed to ensure that food produced and sold within NSW meets specific safety and quality standards, ultimately aiming to protect public health and safety. The Act also gives effect to the Food Standards Code (the Code). 

Key features and objectives of the Food Act 2003 (NSW) include:

  • Food Safety: The primary goal of the act is to safeguard public health by setting out requirements for safe food handling, storage, preparation, and transport.
  • Food Standards: It establishes food safety standards and regulations that food businesses must adhere to, including rules on hygiene, temperature control, and the handling of potentially hazardous foods.
  • Food Licensing: The act outlines a system for the licensing and registration of food businesses, ensuring that they meet specific requirements for food safety and hygiene practices.
  • Food Inspection and Enforcement: The Food Act grants authorities the power to inspect food businesses to ensure compliance with food safety standards. It also sets out penalties for non-compliance and outlines enforcement measures.
  • Food Labeling: The legislation includes provisions for food labeling, including requirements for accurate ingredient labeling and allergen information to protect consumers with food allergies.
  • Traceability: The act emphasizes traceability, ensuring that food products can be tracked and recalled if a safety issue arises, minimizing risks to consumers.
  • Notification of Foodborne Illnesses: It requires food businesses to report foodborne illnesses or outbreaks to the relevant authorities, helping to identify and address potential public health risks.
  • Education and Training: The Food Act encourages food businesses to provide training to their staff on food safety and hygiene practices.
  • Penalties and Offenses: The legislation specifies penalties for breaches of food safety standards and regulations, which can include fines, warnings, and prosecution in severe cases.

Food businesses in NSW, whether they are restaurants, food manufacturers, caterers, or retailers, are expected to comply with the Food Act 2003 and its associated regulations to ensure the safety and quality of the food they produce and sell. Compliance helps protect public health and contributes to the reputation and success of food businesses in the state.

Defining a ‘Food Business’ under Food Act 2003 (NSW) 

In the context of the Food Act 2003 in New South Wales (NSW), Australia, a “food business” is defined as any business or activity that involves handling food for sale. This definition encompasses a wide range of operations and includes businesses involved in various aspects of the food industry. 

To determine whether an entity or activity qualifies as a food business under the Food Act 2003 (NSW), consider the following criteria:

  • Handling of Food: The primary criterion is that the entity or activity must involve the handling of food. This handling can encompass activities such as preparation, processing, storage, display, distribution, transportation, sale, or serving of food products.
  • Commercial Activity: The food handling must be part of a commercial or economic activity. This means that the handling of food should be conducted as a business operation with the aim of generating revenue.

Examples of entities or activities that are typically considered food businesses under the Food Act 2003 (NSW) include:

  • Restaurants, cafes, and takeaway shops that prepare and sell meals to consumers.
  • Supermarkets, grocery stores, and convenience stores that sell packaged and fresh food products.
  • Food manufacturers, including facilities that process, package, or can food products.
  • Food distributors and wholesalers that supply food products to retailers or other businesses.
  • Catering companies that provide food services for events, functions, and parties.
  • Food transport and logistics companies that handle and transport food products.
  • Farmers and agricultural producers who grow and sell food products directly to consumers or retailers.
  • Food importers who bring food products from other countries into the domestic market for sale.

Food-related offences examples 

The Act outlines many offences that relate to food. As a business owner, you should be aware of these, which include:

  • Handling or selling unsafe or unsuitable food;
  • Falsely describing the food for sale or misleading customers;
  • Not complying with the Food Standards Code; or
  • Incorrectly labelling your beef products, such as its quality, classification, category, cut or grade.

You can defend sanctions for violations of the Act if:

  • All reasonable precautions were taken and you exercised due diligence to avoid the offence
  • You exported food to another country where the food is not in breach of their law
  • Steps were taken to destroy or dispose of the food
  • You reasonably believed that the equipment used would not make the food unsafe.

Food Act in rest of Australian States 

Each Australian state and territory has its own set of food laws and regulations, and while there are commonalities among them, there are also variations. 

  • New South Wales (NSW): The Food Act 2003 is the primary legislation governing food safety in NSW. It is supported by the Food Regulation 2015 and the Food Standards Code. Local councils are typically responsible for enforcement and inspections.
  • Victoria: In Victoria, food safety is regulated under the Food Act 1984 and the Food Standards Code. The Department of Health and Human Services and local councils oversee compliance and enforcement.
  • Queensland: The Food Act 2006 and the Food Standards Code govern food safety in Queensland. Local government authorities are responsible for inspections and enforcement.
  • Western Australia (WA): WA’s food safety regulations are outlined in the Food Act 2008 and the Food Regulations 2009. The Department of Health, local government, and the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development share responsibilities for food safety.
  • South Australia (SA): SA’s food safety is regulated by the Food Act 2001 and the Food Regulations 2017. The Department for Health and Wellbeing and local councils oversee compliance.
  • Tasmania: The primary legislation for food safety in Tasmania is the Food Act 2003. Local councils enforce the regulations.
  • Northern Territory (NT): The Food Act 2004 is the key legislation governing food safety in the NT. Local councils and the NT Department of Health are responsible for compliance and enforcement.
  • Australian Capital Territory (ACT): The ACT Food Act 2001 is the primary legislation for food safety in the territory. The ACT Health Protection Service is responsible for enforcement.


Who can enter and inspect your food business 

The Act confers powers upon authorised officials appointed by the Food Authority. These officials are tasked with ensuring food businesses comply with the Act. These officials can enter and inspect your food premises and take photos or audio recordings. They are also afforded a number of other powers under the Act.

If your premises are unclean or in a state of disrepair, the Act enables authorities to:

  • Serve an improvement notice. This requires you to ensure your premises are clean and sanitised, and
  • Serve a prohibition order if you have not complied with the improvement notice within 24 hours. This notice prohibits you from handling or selling food.

You may be able to seek compensation where:

  • You have suffered a financial loss
  • The notice was served on insufficient grounds

How can I safeguard my Food Business? 

In New South Wales, every food business must have food safety programs and supervisors (FSS) in place. This is to ensure that you comply with safe food handling practices. Food safety programs identify potential risks that could result in unsafe or unsuitable food. In addition to this, you will learn how to minimise hazards.

Find out more about food safety programs and supervisors, along with other food handling requirements in our previous legal guide.

Is registering a food Business mandatory? 

When starting a restaurant, cafe, or bar, it is important to register your food premises with your local Council. When you register your food premises, the Code applies. As a proprietor of a food business, it is important that you are aware of all relevant legislation.


Running a food business means that not only do you want to make your products appealing to customers, you also have to ensure their safety. Whether you run a cafe, restaurant, or food processing business – it’s your responsibility to make sure it’s not only good enough to eat, but safe enough too.

To ensure your compliance, you should hire a business lawyer if you need further assistance running a food premises.

Find the perfect lawyer to help your business today!

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