FOOD outlets should find it easier to operate under changes included in the Food Act 2014 - but that should not be seen as a licence to flaunt the rules.
And while the regulations are effective from March 1 next year, there is a transition phase to bring all businesses into line.
In Wanganui, about 250 businesses will be directly affected.
Essentially, the rules require businesses that prepare and sell meals - hotels, restaurants, cafes, takeaway businesses and caterers - to have a "food control plan". That plan will show how they manage food safely and they will have to record their processes, which will then be audited by council environmental health staff.
The legislation makes sure that the food businesses sell is safe and suitable to eat. Those outlets that are a higher risk from a food safety point of view will be covered by more stringent safety checks and requirements than lower risk businesses.
At the lower end of the risk scale are those handling and selling food items but which do not make or prepare them, such as dairies or service stations selling pies. Businesses that will not be required to have a food control plan include motels and backpacker lodges providing breakfasts and snacks. But their food must still be safe and suitable for sale.
Wanganui District Council environmental health officer Therese Back said that, of the 250 businesses in the district affected, about 10 per cent had food safety control programmes.
"We're actively encouraging food control plans where appropriate," Ms Back said. "The different dates for groups of businesses to transition to the new rules will be included in regulations. And there will be public consultation on all proposals for regulations."
She said staggering the dates should ensure the process went smoothly for businesses and others involved.
"Generally, businesses in higher-risk food sectors will be the earliest for transition. But at the end of the three-year period, all food businesses will be operating under the new act."
From that time, the council will have a role in registering and auditing food control plans.
Ms Back said businesses could expect to be audited annually but it could be more frequently for a poor performer and less frequently for a good performer. She said most councils agreed it would involve more work initially.
"The new act replaces the outdated 'one-size-fits-all' food safety legislation that was making it difficult for businesses to operate in an increasingly innovative and competitive world. The new law recognises that each business is different and provides a structure where food safety issues can be dealt with in ways that best suit the business," Ms Back said.