Food law in Australia
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The Food Standards Code
Australia has strict requirements in place that help ensure that all foods offered for sale are Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code.for human consumption. These requirements are detailed in the
The Food Standards Code applies to all kinds of food businesses across Australia (and New Zealand), including but not limited to:
- food manufacturing/processing
- hospitality catering e.g., cafes, restaurants, hotels/motels/clubs, conference centres etc
- food retailing e.g., catering, takeaway outlets & food trucks, fresh (unpackaged) food outlets i.e. butchers, grocers, market stalls etc
- institutional catering e.g., healthcare, aged care, childcare, corrective services, school canteens etc
- home-based food businesses
Food products must only be sold if they are Food Standard 3.1.1)and , and suitable quality must be maintained. For example, food must be free from substances that are foreign to the nature of the food and not damaged, deteriorated or perished. (
Because the Food Standards Code relates to the condition of the final product, it allows for flexibility in how food safety is achieved. It also aims to ensure that food safety requirements and their interpretation are consistent across the whole of Australia.
Food safety laws and regulations are developed and enforced at three levels of government: federal, state/territory and local.
At the federal level is the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act 1991 (the Act). Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is a specialist agency that operates under the Act and is responsible for the development of the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code).
The Food Standards Code includes four sets of Standards:
- Standards that apply to all foods (Chapter 1)
- Food standards for specific categories of foods, like cereals and infant formula (Chapter 2)
- Food safety standards (Chapter 3)
- Primary production standards (Chapter 4)
The Code is implemented and enforced by Australian state and territory governments (and the New Zealand government), through their respective acts. In Australia, these include:
- the Imported Food Control Act 1992, which is enforced by the Federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR)
- the Food Act of each state/territory jurisdiction, which can be accessed via the links below:
At the local council level, Food Safety Auditors/Officers or Environmental Health Officers inspect/audit food businesses to help ensure they are complying with all food safety legislation. State and Territory governments also audit food businesses.
Definitions of some of the key terms used in FitForFood are provided below. Where possible, these are drawn from the Food Standards Code. Click on each tab to see the definition.
‘Clean means clean to touch and free of extraneous visible matter and objectionable odour’ (ANZ Food Standard 3.1.1)
That is, ‘clean’/’cleanliness’ is assessed by sight, touch and smell and does not relate to the microbiological status of a surface or item.
‘Cleanliness (ANZ Food Standard 3.2.2, Clause 19):
‘(1) A food business must maintain food premises to a standard of cleanliness where there is no accumulation of (a) garbage, except in garbage containers; (b) recycled matter, except in containers; (c) food waste; (d) dirt; (e) grease; or (f) other visible matter.
‘(2) A food business must maintain all fixtures, fittings and equipment, having regard to its use, and those parts of vehicles that are used to transport food, and other items provided by the business to purchasers to transport food, to a standard of cleanliness where there is no accumulation of (a) food waste; (b) dirt; (c) grease; or (d) other visible matter.’
Based on the definition of ‘clean’, cleaning is the act of removing extraneous visible matter and objectionable odour. In food premises, cleaning generally requires a combination of warm or hot water, detergent and physical action.
‘Contaminant means any biological or chemical agent, foreign matter, or other substances that may compromise food safety or suitability’ (ANZ Food Standard 3.1.1)
‘Biological agents include microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses and moulds. Chemical agents include metals, pesticides and other chemicals that could contaminate food. Foreign matter includes physical objects that may be in food, such as string, paperclips and glass. Other substances are included to ensure that all materials that may affect food safety or suitability are covered.’ (A Guide to the Food Safety Standards: Chapter 3 of the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code)
However, the presence of a contaminant does not automatically mean that it renders food unsuitable; the Food Standards Codes permit certain levels of some contaminants.
‘Disinfectant’ is not defined in the Food Standards Code. However, the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989 and Regulations define a disinfectant as:
‘(a) that is recommended by its manufacturer for application to an inanimate object to kill microorganisms; and
‘(b) that is not represented by the manufacturer to be suitable for internal use.’
In other words, a disinfectant can be applied to a surface to kill microorganisms. A disinfectant kills almost all microorganisms on a surface, whereas a sanitiser reduces the number of microorganisms (to a safe level).
A food-safe product could be labelled as either a disinfectant or a sanitiser, but sanitiser is the more commonly used term.
‘A substance is used as a food additive in relation to a food if it is added to the food and (a) performs 1 or more of the technological purposes listed in Schedule 14; and (b) is a substance identified in subsection 1.1.2—11(2). (Food Standard 1.1.2—11)
In other words, food additives are intentionally added to foods for a specific technical purpose in the food.
The Codex Alimentarius defines a food additive as:
‘any substance not normally consumed as a food by itself and not normally used as a typical ingredient of the food, whether or not it has nutritive value, the intentional addition of which to food for a technological (including organoleptic) purpose in the manufacture, processing, preparation, treatment, packing, packaging, transport or holding of such food results, or may be reasonably expected to result (directly or indirectly), in it or its by-products becoming a component of or otherwise affecting the characteristics of such foods. The term does not include contaminants or substances added to food for maintaining or improving nutritional qualities.’
A list of Substances that may be used as food additives is in Schedule 15 of the ANZ Food Standards Code.
Rather than defining ‘safe food’, the Australian food safety system defines what is ‘unsafe food’. Refer to the definition for ‘unsafe food’.
‘A biological, chemical or physical agent in, or condition of, food that has the potential to cause an adverse health effect in humans.’ (ANZ Food Standard 3.1.1)
Food businesses need to identify and control potential hazards that may be reasonably expected to occur in all their food handling operations.
A microorganism that can cause human disease.
‘A substance that is intentionally used to fulfil a technological purpose in the course of processing but does not perform a technological function in the food for sale.’ (ANZ Food Standards 1.1.2—13)
In other words, a processing aid is used during food production/processing for a specific function but does not have a function in the final food product. However, its use may result in residues of the substance (or derivatives) in the final product.
Permitted processing aids, and maximum limits, are listed in Schedule 18 of the ANZ Food Standards Code.
In line with the definition of ‘sanitise’, ‘sanitary’ means that a surface has been treated with heat or chemicals, heat and chemicals, or other processes, so that the number of micro-organisms on the surface or utensil has been reduced to a level that does not compromise the safety of the food with which it may come into contact and does not permit the transmission of infectious disease.
Sanitising is a process that destroys microorganisms.
‘Sanitise means to apply heat or chemicals, heat and chemicals, or other processes, to a surface so that the number of microorganisms on the surface is reduced to a level that –
(a) does not compromise the safety of food with which it may come into contact; and
(b) does not permit the transmission of infectious disease’ (Food Standard 3.2.3)
All food businesses are required to comply with ANZ Food Standard 3.2.2, Clause 19, ‘Cleaning and sanitising of specific equipment’:
(1) A food business must ensure the following equipment is in a clean and sanitary condition in the circumstances set out below –
(a) eating and drinking utensils – immediately before each use; and
(b) the food contact surfaces of equipment – whenever food that will come into contact with the surface is likely to be contaminated.
(2) In subclause (1), a ‘clean and sanitary condition’ means, in relation to a surface or utensil, the condition of a surface or utensil where it –
(a) is clean; and
(b) has had applied to it heat or chemicals, heat and chemicals, or other processes, so that the number of microorganisms on the surface or utensil has been reduced to a level that –
(i) does not compromise the safety of the food with which it may come into contact; and
(ii) does not permit the transmission of infectious disease’
Unsafe food is food that:
‘would be likely to cause physical harm to a person who might later consume it (excluding foods that may cause adverse reactions specific to some individuals, such as peanut or dairy allergies), assuming:
(a) it was, after that particular time and before being consumed by the person, properly subjected to all processes (if any) that are relevant to its reasonable intended use, and
(b) nothing happened to it after that particular time and before being consumed by the person that would prevent its being used for its reasonable intended use, and
(c) it was consumed by the person according to its reasonable intended use.
One of the causes of a food becoming ‘unsuitable’ is if it ‘contains a biological or chemical agent, or other matter or substance, that is foreign to the nature of the food.’ (Food Standard 3.1.1)
However, as noted in the definition of ‘contaminant’, the presence of a biological or chemical agent does not automatically render food unsuitable.
Another cause of unsuitable food is food that ‘is damaged, deteriorated or perished to an extent that affects its reasonable intended use’ or ‘contains any damaged, deteriorated or perished substance that affects its reasonable intended use’. (Food Standard 3.1.1)