Starting a business based on fermented food was a bureaucratic nightmare made worse by rules which penalise the regions, a Far North businesswoman says.

Kaye van der Straten, who co-owns K4 Cultured Foods in Haruru Falls, said it took 11 months and cost thousands of dollars to get certified under the new Food Act.

When she started the business last year she didn't know the Food Act 1981 and the Food Hygiene Regulations 1974 were about to be replaced by a new law administered by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

With new rules, and a product that didn't fit into the standard categories, she said she became mired in conflicting advice and buck-passing.

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MPI, however, says it went out of its way to help and cut Ms van der Straten's costs.

To make her products legal Ms van der Straten had to create a custom Food Control Plan.
That included paying to get her premises and methods checked by a verifier but there weren't any available in Northland, so one had to fly from Dunedin instead.

"The Act penalises the regions. You have to get a verifier to make sure you're meeting the requirements, but there aren't any in the regions."

When the process appeared to stall at one stage she contacted Northland MP Winston Peters, who fired off a few letters on her behalf.

Creating the custom Food Control Plan would have cost a great deal more if she didn't have the skills to do much of the work herself, she said.

Her partner, ship's captain Freddy Loov, wanted to dedicate himself to the business but it was likely he would have to go back to sea to make up for the delay and lost income.

"We'll make it, we have a good product and a sound business, but the 11-month delay in opening means we're scrambling and nowhere as comfortable as we could've been."

MPI food and beverage manager Sally Johnston said fermented foods were high-risk because there was no cooking process to kill harmful bacteria.

MPI spent months in 2016 working with Ms van der Straten on options to keep her products shelf stable and in a low-risk category, by pasteurisation, cooking or increasing acidity.

However, she wanted to keep them pro-biotic so a custom Food Control Plan was needed.
Ms Johnston said MPI was aware of the challenges of doing business in the regions so it had set up an education and support programme to help businesses with the Food Act.

It included workshops and web resources such as the 'Where Do I Fit' tool on the MPI website.

MPI also helped Ms van der Straten find the most cost-effective way of getting her Food Control Plan evaluated and verified.

That included charging her only for flights from Auckland and a night's accommodation for a verifier who had to travel from Dunedin. MPI had also waived the onsite evaluation, doing it as a low-cost desktop exercise instead.

Mr Peters officially opened the business on June 1.