Monday 31 October 2016

Food regs: Reader Mailbag edition

I've noted the problems in the food regs for Biddy's cheese. But it's come up now for early childhood centres which fear huge compliance costs for preparing lunches for the kiddies.

Today's inbox brings a helpful note from Donald Ellis, who has more than passing familiarity with local council regulatory issues. And, he's now blogging! Here's his post on food reg compliance costs and early childhood centres. The lede:
$4,000 each year for permission to serve kids food at a pre-school? So the Early ChildhoodCouncil says.

This is plausible and the inevitable consequence of the implementation of the Food Act 2014. But to understand how we got to this ludicrous situation you have to go back at least 35 years.

A bottom line:
The Food Act 1981 allowed local businesses to opt out of Health Act regulation by registering a Food Safety Plan (same as what is now compulsory). Virtually no-one took advantage of this provision for the simple reason that independent assessors charged $1,500+ to audit a business compared to the $100-$300 cost of registering with the local council. In the course of 35 years no-one could find any good reason for changing the way they already did business and making themselves poorer. Of course the way they did things was not "best practice". So rather than admit that that the idea of everyone being HACCP-compliant was not a cost-effective approach MPI and its predecessors got the government to pass legislation making it compulsory. And the councils are delighted because they go from a (technically) hands-off role to an active role with significant approval powers (more power, more money).

I remain hopeful that councils will hold the cost to small businesses of administering the new regime at the same level as they do now. To that end MPI have published an excellent template that food service businesses (cafes, restaurants, pre-schools) can use to set up their system. From what I have seen these types of businesses should be able to set up their system in a few hours. But that largely depends on the whim of their council. Any dispute under the Health Act had to be fought out in the District Court. Now the power shifts completely to the council. And what we have also seen in the cases cited by the Early Childhood Council is that, if the council chooses not to be in the approval/auditing business, then small local businesses are thrown to the commercial auditing companies at whatever price they choose to quote.

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