Childcare Providers are Running Out of Time to Meet New Food Safety Standards.
Standard 3.2.2A was added to the Food Standards Code in December 2022 and subsequently to the food safety laws of all state and territories. The food industry was given until 8th December 2023 to comply and for those that haven’t started ... time is running out!
WHY A NEW STANDARD?
An abundance of fresh produce along with tough food regulations have failed to have any effect on the number of major foodborne disease outbreaks in Australia. Each year – over 4 million people suffer from food poisoning, around 30,000 are hospitalised, an average of 86 people die and there are more than 1,000,000 doctors’ appointments; and it’s the same story year on year.
Outbreak surveillance helped identify the primary source – the food services sector, catering firms and food retailers. In particular, those that handle unpackaged potentially hazardous food and food that is both potentially hazardous and ready-to-eat. As for the cause – this was found to be poor food handling.
With no sign of improvement, pressure would certainly have been on Food Standards Australia/New Zealand (FSANZ) to act. This gave rise to Standard 3.2.2A with additional obligations for business owners and new measures to address the role played by food handlers in maintaining food safety.
WHAT BUSINESSES ARE AFFECTED?
Standard 3.2.2A is broad reaching and applies to practically every business that serves food to consumers – restaurants and cafes along with childcare and aged care providers that supply food.
Businesses are categorised as One or Two according to the level of prescribed activity involving potentially hazardous and ready-to-eat foods.
Category One (High Risk) - Process unpackaged potentially hazardous food into food that is both ready-to-eat and potentially hazardous. The food is then served to a consumer for immediate consumption, either on site or elsewhere. These include Restaurants, Cafes, Fast Food Outlets, Caterers, Hospitals, Bakeries, Childcare Centre’s, and Aged Care Facilities.
Category Two (Medium Risk) - Receive unpackaged potentially hazardous food or unpack it themselves and then sell it to consumers (but do not make or process food on site). These include Supermarkets, Delis, Service Stations, Market Stalls, and Convenience Stores
THREE FOOD SAFETY MANAGEMENT TOOLS
1 FOOD HANDLER TRAINING
2 FOOD SAFETY SUPERVISORS
3 PROOF OF SAFE FOOD PRACTICES
Central to the legislation are 3 clearly defined food safety management tools. Category One businesses must adopt all three while Category Two are required to implement two - Food Safety Training and Food Safety Supervisors.
Given the vulnerability of young children and the elderly to foodborne diseases, childcare and aged care businesses that supply food are already subject to greater scrutiny and regulatory oversight.
It’s fair to assume most would currently have a food license and an accredited food safety program. As such, they would already have a Food Safety Supervisor and comply to the discipled recording of food processing activity that defines a food safety program, But, for those new to the market and without the experience of a food safety program, Standard 3.2.2A will be a steep learning curve.
THE GREATEST CHALLENGE
The greatest challenge by far and the one that will cause the most angst is the requirement for FOOD HANDLER TRAINING. This is a significant development and come 8th December it will be unlawful to allow anyone to handle food unless they have been properly trained.
Now, before you breath a sigh or relief let me remind you of the legal definition of a food handler - anyone involved in the making, cooking, preparing, serving, packing, displaying, storing, or the delivery of food as well as those who clean equipment, utensils, surfaces, or cutlery.
While Standard 3.2.2A does allow for an alternative to training - the ability to demonstrate knowledge and skill. This is a subjective measure and will be determined by an Environmental Health Officer.
It’s plain to see that Standard 3.2.2A is a concerted effort to push business owner to have all food handlers trained. This is reinforced with the inclusion of the 4 minimum mandated areas of knowledge.
The method of training, who provides it and how often it must be done are matters left to the business owner to decide.
WHAT SHOULD PROVIDERS BE DOING?
With just 6 months to go, it will be December before you know it and if providers haven’t prepared a plan of action – then they best get started.
It is important for business owners to understand that the Food Safety Management Tools detailed in Standard 3.2.2A must be implemented and operating effectively by 8th December. Furthermore, Environmental Health Officers have been granted new powers of enforcement that come into effect from that date.
Plus, if history is anything to go by, the second half of the year is traditionally the busiest and it includes the build up to the silly season (Christmas). This is even more reason to act now rather than later.
Here are some of the practical steps providers need to take and they should start now.
Assess the food safety knowledge and skills of all existing staff to identify those who will benefit from additional food safety training.
Review training option to choose the one that best suits and commence remedial training for those that need it.
Set up and maintain a training register as documentary proof – who, when and what.
Ensure all new staff employed from now are trained in food safety before they commence work or handle food. Including food safety training with your induction program for new staff would be ideal.
Establish a method to assess the food safety knowledge of staff on a regular basis. This could combine on-the-job evaluation with a knowledge test.
Finally, the end goal should be to instil food safety into the culture of your business. Achieving this requires everyone to take ownership and responsibility. Appointing a member of the team as a Food Safety Champion for each location is something worth considering, This could be the Food Safety Supervisor or someone that shows promise.