Frequently asked questions
Does my business need a Food Licence?
Generally speaking, if you sell, give away, raffle or otherwise dispose of the food to the general public, you will be required to hold a Food Licence with your Local Authority (Council). There are some exceptions that vary from State to State, so contact your Local Council to determine whether or not your business requires licensing.
I plan to prepare food at home for sale at a market stall or to deliver to clients. Do I still need a food licence?
Yes, the preparation of any food for sale to the public triggers a food licence regardless of where the food is prepared. For example, a person baking cakes at home for delivery to clients is a licensable food business. Depending on how your run your home-based business, you may be also required to meet certain Town Planning requirements. Always check with your Local Council before making any plans to start a food business.
How do I obtain a Food Licence?
All food licences are obtained through your Local Council, unless you are a State Government facility in which case licensing is usually obtained through the State Government. If you are simply taking over from an existing food premises and do not plan on making any changes to the kitchen, then this is usually as straight forward as filling in an application along with payment and ensuring you have a nominated Food Safety Supervisor where required.
For new premises, a Food Premises Plan Approval Application is required before any Food Licence can be issued as it is imporant that Council assess kitchen plans, design and construction to ensure it meets the food safety laws (i.e. the Food Act, Food Standards Code and relevant Australian Standards). Always contact your Local Council to obtain information on how to apply for a Food Licence or Kitchen Plan Approval.
NQ Environmental Health Services can assist with all government food-related applications and kitchen plans/design, so please contact us if for a free initial consult and quote.
Food Safety Programs
What is a Food Safety Program?
A food safety program is a written document indicating how a food business will control the food safety hazards associated with the food handling activities of the business. It is a document that identifies all possible hazards which may occur as part of food handling activities at the premises and identifies how these hazards will be minimised. As part of the program, you must keep adequate records indicating that the hazards have been minimised and the contents of the Food Safety Program are being complied with.
Does my business need a Food Safety Program?
Certain business, under the State's relevant Food Act, are required to hold a Food Safety Program. The requirement to hold a Food Safety Program varies from State to State. Some States such as New South Wales and Victoria require most food businesses to hold a Food Safety Program, whilst other States only enforce this requirement if the food business services vulnerable people (i.e. childcare centres, nursing homes, meals on wheels, hospices, respite centres, etc), is a onsite or offsite caterer, or manufactures food for distribution and sale. Check with your Local Council to determine the Food Safety Program requirements in your State.
If you plan to provide food to a vulnerable population (i.e. children, eldery, immuno-compromised, etc), then all States require you to hold a Food Safety Program for your business.
How do I get my Food Safety Program accredited?
There are usually three steps involved in getting your Food Safety Program accredited by either your Local Council or State Authority. If your business is required by law to hold a Food Safety Program, it MUST be accredited by your Local Council or State Authority.
1. Ensure your Food Safety Program is fully complete. There are templates available online, however you will still need to do quite a bit of work to make those templates usable and applicable to your business. Do not submit partially complete programs or programs that are unlikely to meet the requirements as this will cost you more money in resubmition fees.
2. Contact an accredited Food Safety Auditor to provide written advice on your Food Safety Program. This written advice states whether or not the FSP meets the requirements of the State's Food Act and the Food Standards Code. Some Councils are able to provide written advice, so check with your Local Council before contacting any third party auditors.
3. Submit the Food Safety Program, along with the Written Advice, to your Local Council or State Authority, along with the applicable fees.
Once accredited, you will receive notification (usually an Information Notice) outlining the accreditation conditions and the frequency of Audits required. It is your responsibility to ensure that you arrange for an accredited Food Safety Auditor to audit your Food Safety Program at the frequencies outlined. Usually this is every 6 months as a starting point. NQ Environmental Health Services can write your Food Safety Program (Australia wide) or provide the written advice and conduct audits (QLD only).
Commercial Kitchen Design
What type of slip resistance does the flooring need to be in my commercial kitchen?
This is a confusing issue for many as there are two pieces of legislation that overlap in this regard - the Food Act and the Workplace Health and Safety Act (or it's equivalent in your State). A slip rating of r12 is considered to offer the best protection from slipping, however it is too coarse to be kept clean (try cleaning coarse sandpaper after using it, you'll find it very difficult to clean it effectively). A good compromise to meet food safety regulations whilst maintaining some protection from slips and falls is r10, however consult with your Local Council on these requirements.
What does "kitchen flow" mean and why is it important to consider when fitting out a commercial kitchen?
This term is used a lot by Health Inspectors, food consultants and architects/draftsmen, however it is often not given the attention it deserves. When we talk about a "kitchen flow", we are referring to how food enters and leaves the kitchen and ensuring that we keep adequate separation between conflicting activities (i.e. food preparation - clean area and washing up - dirty area). A kitchen with a good flow will have its storage facilities (cold rooms, freezers, dry store, etc) located at the rear of the kitchen or where food is delivered from the supplier, which flows onto food preparation/cooking areas before exiting the kitchen to the customer. Once the plates and uneaten food return to the kitchen, this flows onto the washing up facilities which should be kept separate from your food preparation area. See the below diagram as example of a kitchen with a good "flow" (click on image to enlarge). A kitchen without a good flow can increase the risk of cross-contamination and other food safety issues due to conflicting activities occurring in the same area of the kitchen.
Council Compliance Inspections
Why doesn't Council make an appointment to inspect my food business?
Under the Food Legislation (Food Act) in each State, Councils and State Government are given powers to conduct inspections of food premises at any time during the business opening hours without prior appointments or permission. It is important that Government Officers inspect the kitchen without notice so as to ensure it is a level playing field and that major non-compliances can be identified which would otherwise go unnoticed had appointments be made. Larger Councils also have a very large numder of licensed food businesses and it simply is not possible to make individual appointments.
If you own a home-based business that is not open to the public to access, then Council will generally try and make an appointment with you to inspect the premises.
Ensure that you sight ID and the Officer introduces themselves and the purpose for their visit prior to them entering the kitchen.
I am worried about compliance inspections, what can I expect?
For most businesses, compliance inspections should not be stressful so long as your business is mostly compliant. It is important that you familiarise yourself with Standard 3.2.2 - Food Safety Practices and General Requirements and Standard 3.2.3 - Food Premises and Equipment under the Food Standards Code. These two standards in particular are what Councils use to form the basis of their compliance inspections. If you are compliant with these two Standards, then there should not be any major issues with your inspection. Links to these Standards can be obtained under the "Resources" section of this website for Food Businesses.
Please bear in mind that it is common for Officers to identify minior areas of non-compliance. This is not necessarily a reflection of your business and is simply the Officer providing a fresh pair of eyes and assisting you in identifying minor areas of non-compliance before they become major issues. If only minor issues are identified, it is generally a reflection that you are running a safe food business.
If you feel that the inspection results or the Officer was unreasonable, you can lodge a complaint with Council for a review of the inspection and/or the Officer's conduct. NQ Environmental Health Services can provide advice with regards to inspection outcomes and if the issues identified could be viewed as being reasonable.
How many times per year will my business be inspected?
This will vary from Council to Council depending on staffing levels in food safety compliance and/or the amount of potentially hazardous food sold by your business (i.e. the level of possible food safety risks). Generally speaking, you should expect 1-2 compliance inspections per year, more if there are issues with non-compliances. However, many Councils do not have the capacity to achieve 100% of inspections each year, so your business may go a year or two without an inspection. However, this is not an opportunity to drop safe food handling practices as complaints will trigger inspections and possible legal action should major issues be identified, so it is important to practice safe food handling and ensure you premises is well maintained at all times.
Why are inspections conducted when I am busy preparing food?
It is important that Officers witness food handling practices as this forms a large part of compliance inspections, so Officers will generally try and inspect premises when food preparation/handling is taking place. Smaller Councils may try to avoid peak times where possible, however this is not practical when an Officer has a large amount of inspections to conduct each day. Officers are aware that kitchens may look chaotic during busy periods and this should in no way affect the outcome of your inspection unless food safety practices are not being met.
Running a food business is a stressful task, however it is important to treat all Inspecting Officers with respect and expect the same in return.