Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Council alarm at food stall risk

Photo / Greg Bowker
Photo / Greg Bowker

Food stalls at the Chinese Lantern Festival, Pasifika, Diwali and other major events will be nearly unregulated for food safety under a major law reform, says Auckland Council, which is concerned about the potential for large-scale food poisoning.

Council officials say legislation before Parliament which introduces new food safety regulations would exempt small vendors serving tens of thousands of meals at large events.

They made the comments as submissions resumed on the long-awaited Food Bill, which was first introduced to Parliament in 2010.

The bill stalled amid speculation that it would put an end to sausage sizzles and cake stalls, introduce crippling costs for small horticultural producers, and give multinational corporations more control over New Zealand's food sources.

The Government amended the bill in 2012 to address some of these problems and ensure that small-scale sellers such as farmers' markets and fundraising stalls would not be captured by the law change.

But some parties were questioning parts of the redrafted bill.

Auckland Council said it supported most of the changes, but it was worried small vendors would be exempted from controls on food safety at large events such as the Chinese Lantern Festival, attended by more than 100,000 people.

Environmental health team leader Alan Ahmu told a select committee yesterday that officials were not concerned about school fairs or fund-raisers.

"But the major events, where you've got thousands of people coming and the people who are preparing the food in a traditional way are not used to making such a large number of [meals], so we would find there's huge problems. There's the potential there to affect a large number of people."

At present, Auckland Council officials met with stall-holders the day before festivals and outlined best practice for food safety. They also carried out spot checks while the festivals were taking place.

But the council wanted a more comprehensive, single food control plan for "high-risk" food stalls which served hot food.

A council spokeswoman said: "Perhaps they don't even realise about having the space to keep food cold and keep it hot when it's cooked. They need to be aware of all those processes and ... keeping things hygienic and clean so people don't get food poisoning."

Ministry for Primary Industries officials said the Government had not wanted to stamp out "Kiwiana fundraising activities" by regulating small-scale sellers. Food stalls would initially be considered low-risk when the legislation came into force, but they could be moved into a stricter category if necessary. This would not require a further law change.

If the bill passed, anyone who sold food commercially would be categorised as high, medium or low-risk.

High-risk businesses such as restaurants would have to either develop their own plan for managing their food and premises or adopt a provided template. Those with a record of compliance would have lower costs and fewer visits from council inspectors, known as "verifiers".

Medium-risk organisations such as bakeries would face more flexible regulations and lower costs. And low-risk sellers such as roadside stalls and farmers' markets would face no costs and be given free guidance.

Food rules

High-risk: Restaurants, baby formula manufacturers - must develop a robust food safety plan.

Medium-risk: Bakeries, pre-packaged food manufacturers - more flexible regulations, lower costs of compliance.

Low-risk: Roadside stalls, farmers' markets, sausage sizzles - no costs, guidance on food handling free.

- NZ Herald

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