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Food outlet safety is just a guess for diners

Nov 13th, 2010 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, Lead Story, News

Food Hygiene LEADWELLINGTONIANS are being forced to rely on their own judgement when deciding whether the food they are being served is safe.

Nearly two-thirds of Wellington’s 1200 food providers are able to operate without the public knowing how well they stack up in terms of hygiene, according to details obtained by NewsWire.

Wellington City Council issues only “excellent” grading certificates for display. Those with lower gradings – even “high risk” – don’t have to display anything.

To score “excellent”, an outlet must score 17 out of a possible 20 in the council’s risk-based assessment regime, something managed by 420 of them.

Of the remaining 800 who did not make “excellent”, council environmental health officers are randomly inspecting the worst of them, those that scored fewer than 12 points.

While some 198 of these poorly performed outlets will be looked at several times throughout the year, they do not have to display certificates saying how they rate.

The providers are taken off the intensive inspection scheme if they improve.

BON APPÉTIT: Simply Paris Manager Baptiste Vassal with the cafe's "excellent" grading certificate. It is awarded to food outlets with a score of at least 85% in the council's food hygiene assessment.

BON APPÉTIT: Simply Paris Manager Baptiste Vassal with the cafe's "excellent" hygiene grading certificate.

Local food outlets operate under two sets of rules – local council and central government.

Even premises with the lowest possible grade, “high risk” (with fewer than six points) are not prevented from operating unless they breach requirements of the Local Public Health Bylaw 2008 and Food Hygiene Regulations 1974.

These regulations set out minimum standards for the outlet’s building, including the availability of hot water and the integrity of floors, walls and ceilings.

New legislation that aims to update the laws governing food regulation is currently before Parliament’s Primary Production Select Committee.

The Food Bill is the result of only the second review of the domestic food sector in over 30 years and will see the whole country operate under a single set of rules, including a standard food premise grading system.

Many local authorities, like Wellington, have introduced local food-related bylaws to address gaps in the current law.

Local Government New Zealand says although it supports a review of the current law, the Bill will give central government “unreasonable powers” to direct local authorities in enforcing the national standards.

It is also keen that the many details still to be prescribed in the Bill be developed in association with local authorities.

Public submissions closed in September and the committee is due to report back on January 22, next year.

The Capital and Coast DHB area is among the worse nationally, for rates of half of all food-related notifiable diseases, according to figures from the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (New Zealand Foodborne Disease Annual Report 2009).

These include incidents of campylobacteriosis at 44% above the national average (or 240 cases per 100,000 people) and nearly double the normal rate of gastroenteritis (31 cases per 100,000).

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  1. Wow – I emailed Wellington council last night asking exactly this question. Got some gibberish about ‘excellent’ certificates and some waffle about legislation from 1974. Long & short.. we’re groping in the (sometimes filthy) dark.

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