Food safety inspections should not cost early childcare centres thousands of dollars - MPI

Codah Orchard, 4, (left) Chance Orchard, 4, and Maungaarangi Hastie, 4, eating at ABC Childcare in Greerton. Photo / Andrew Warner
Codah Orchard, 4, (left) Chance Orchard, 4, and Maungaarangi Hastie, 4, eating at ABC Childcare in Greerton. Photo / Andrew Warner

Early childcare centres quoted thousands of dollars for food safety inspections should report the business to the Ministry for Primary Industries.

The Ministry today responded to claims by the Early Childhood Council that centres were struggling to meet expensive compliance costs - forcing them to stop providing food for children or hike fees for parents.

The complaint came after the introduction of the Food Act 2014, which came into force in March.

READ MORE: New food safety laws stopping early childcare centres from giving kids food, charges Council

Early Childhood Council boss Peter Reynolds branded the law "a nonsense", saying it was not practical or fair for childcare centres to follow.

Centres had been quoted anything from $1000 to $4000 for food safety inspections, he said - much more than the $300 Ministry officials had advised him before the law came into effect.

However, today the MPI said it "wouldn't expect anyone to accept fees of thousands of dollars for a verification like this".

The Act was designed to keep costs low, a spokeswoman said, especially for those who manage food safety well.

Fees were set by local councils and private agencies, and were not controlled by MPI.

Costs were being monitored, she said, and urged anyone being quoted a high price to contact the Ministry.

"We have heard reports from a few organisations being quoted high prices for verification," she said.

"We are working to address these issues in a number of ways - including looking at ways to increase verifier numbers in remote areas, developing tools to assist businesses to work together to arrange verification in order to reduce travel costs, and extending the time period for verification in exceptional circumstances while a suitable service is found.

A Ministry for Primary Industries vehicle. Photo / file
A Ministry for Primary Industries vehicle. Photo / file

"As the new law rolls out, we are seeing more and more verifiers become available, which will provide more choice for organisations.

"We encourage childcare centres to contact MPI or their local council if they are facing problems."

MPI estimated that if there were no food safety issues, an inspection would take around two hours and cost between $115 to $210 per hour, every three years.

"Foodborne illness can and does make people very sick and our food safety laws are designed to protect people. This is as important in childcare centres as it is in restaurants and cafes," the spokeswoman said.

"The new Food Act does not take a one-size-fits-all approach, but recognises that food providers are different and regulates higher risk activities more strictly than lower risk ones.

"MPI is working closely with the sector to provide tailored information to help childcare centres understand what they need to do."

Most childcare centres have until March 31 next year to register under the new rules

"At this early stage it is not possible to assess the effect on food safety that the new law is having, but we are monitoring this as the law is rolled out.

"We do expect the law to improve food safety, as it focuses on the food safety practices that are most important to keeping food safe."

Yesterday, Reynolds criticised the law for exempting home-based childcare centres - such as those run by PORSE - from the new food safety law.

"This decision was made based on the sphere of impact, and the difficulty in separating home-based services from nanny or babysitter services," the MPI spokeswoman said.

However, she added that such childcare providers were still required to ensure food is safe and suitable.

They can be checked and held accountable if people fall ill, she said.

"We are also releasing general food safety messages that will help people to understand how to minimise foodborne illness from food prepared at home."

- NZ Herald

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