All food sold in this country must meet the requirements of the Food Standards Code, regardless of whether it was made here or overseas. Domestically compliance to the Code is monitored by state and local governments.
For food which is imported into the country, the responsibility for this monitoring is held by the Department of Agriculture (DOA) through the Imported Food Inspection Scheme (IFIS).
This scheme determines whether imported food meets all the safety, composition and labelling requirements.
There are two levels of risk for imported products, as determined in assessment done by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) – Risk products and Surveillance products. Risk products require that inspections are done at each import, however as the importer builds up a history of compliance, those inspections are reduced but will increase again if a failure is identified. Surveillance products, on the other hand, have less and random inspections, which will increase only if there is a failure of compliance.
A further option exists, which allows importers to be responsible for some parts of the compliance assessment themselves, through the Food Import Compliance Agreement (FICA). It requires food safety systems and periodic audits by DOA officers. It has not been a popular option to date.
The recent berry and Hepatitis food poisoning created a lot of fear and discussion within the community. As a result there has been a lot of confusion about what is labelling and what is food safety? The recent release of the trial on new Country of Origin Labelling (CoOL) requirements is all about labelling. At the same time the Australian National Audits Office (ANAO) was asked to review the whole imported food assessment process to address potential food safety issues.
The report from this review has now been published and presented to Parliament, and it contains three recommendations:
- A new approach for monitoring risk profiles and the referral of food for inspection;
- Better management of inspection-related activities and non-compliances; and
- The development of performance measures and reporting on outcomes.
The report also suggests several improvement areas;
- The establishment of mechanisms to assure products are being categorised as ‘risk’ or ‘surveillance’ correctly
- Better consistency between regional offices of the DOA. This has been highlighted by the ANAO as a problematic area as some methods used by the offices differ, leading to a risk of inconsistent implementation and decision-making
- Better consistency in the management of serious breaches – including better investigation practices and documentation
- Developing performance measures specific to the IFIS – including identification of emerging trends and changes and measuring the extent to which objectives are met.
Rachelle Williams, The Green Food Safety Coach.