ACT News

ACT food health inspectors get a big tick for their helpfulness

Canberra's food safety inspectors have received a tick of approval from local business operators, with 81 per cent reporting receiving effective and helpful advice from a special expert unit. 

A new government-commissioned survey of food businesses operating in the territory found more than three quarters of owners who had phoned ACT Health's health protection services team for food safety advice rated the information they received as excellent or very good.

Bad example: A fruit and vegetable distributor leaves food on the ground while making deliveries.
Bad example: A fruit and vegetable distributor leaves food on the ground while making deliveries. 

ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher will release the survey results on Monday. More than 2500 registered food businessess operate in the territory, the majority small businessess. 

Ms Gallagher, who also serves as Health Minister, said it showed high levels of satisfaction in the industry and operators approving the professionalism of food safety inspectors and the quality of official information.

Operators of medium-risk food businesses were asked their views on the services provided by the Operations team – which is responsible for food licensing, monitoring and enforcement of food safety regulations in the ACT.

More than 70 per cent of respondents rated the service they received as excellent or very good, and 85 per cent agreed that the unit's officers provide a courteous, professional and high quality service.

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The survey also found strong support from operators of food businesses for the government's Food Safety Supervisor scheme, which requires food businesses to have suitably qualified staff that can readily identify, correct and prevent food safety hazards.

Ms Gallagher welcomed the results of the survey. 

"Canberra food businesses largely have a positive record when it comes to safe food preparation and handling practices, however, food inspections are essential to ensure that consumers are protected against food borne illnesses like salmonella.

"I am pleased to see that food businesses are reporting high levels of satisfaction with the services provided by the Operations team during food safety inspections."

Last month the government introduced legislation which would remove charities, sporting clubs and community groups from some food safety regulations, no longer requiring them to appoint a food safety supervisor when fund-raising.

If approved by the ACT Legislative Assembly, some businesses selling only packaged and non-perishable foods, including cereals , breads and long life milk will no longer be required to register with ACT Health. 

The changes come after a sustained community backlash in November 2013, when all charity groups holding more than five sausage sizzles a year were required to complete the costly training.  

The legislation would also see the health minister given the authority to exempt food businesses from appointing safety supervisors on a case-by-case basis and business registration extended to up to three years, in place of annual registration. 

Tougher penalties will apply for anyone found interfering with closure notices for safety breaches after some businesses have been found trying to hide or obscure the public notices. 

"I am pleased to say that 87 per cent of respondents agreed that having a food safety supervisor in their business had increased food handling knowledge and improved food handling techniques," Ms Gallagher said.

"Canberrans enjoy an exciting range of choices when it comes to eating out and the government must work to ensure these places are safe while striking the right balance to prevent too much regulatory burden on food businesses.

"I hope that the satisfaction levels with inspectors can remain at these high levels and continue to improve." 

Food safety supervisors in ACT businesses are responsible for ensuring hygiene and food safety standards are achieved and maintained, to prevent public health problems.

Two sets of court action are continuing for the largest food safety incident in Canberra's history. Large numbers of diners were struck down by salmonella poisoning after eating at the now closed Copa Restaurant in Dickson in May 2013.