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Making Food Safety Your Number One Priority

by Andrew Thomson on May 22, 2018

Food poisoning is a risk restaurateurs and café owners should be aware of.

Last week a Canberra café owner faced the ACT Magistrates Court charged with eight criminal offences, including negligently selling unsafe food after an alleged outbreak of salmonella food poisoning. The café owner has denied the charges.

More than one hundred people reported to ACT Health they had become ill with nineteen hospitalised from eating at the café early last year. Seventy five cases of salmonella poisoning were confirmed.

It’s alleged the source of the food poisoning was the cafe’s smoothies and cronuts. According to media reports, microbiological testing had found salmonella on Chux dishcloths and tea towels.

The trigger for this investigation commenced when ACT Health received several complaints from people who had eaten at the cafe.

ACT Health closed the café in mid-February as they identified issues related with food handling processes and procedures. The café reopened four days later, after meeting compliance requirements.

A hearing date has been set aside later in the year.

Food regulatory authorities

There are many requirements for food businesses to function legally in Australia to being compliant with food laws.

The government’s responsibility has always been to develop legislation that will minimise risk to the population at large, regardless of industry.

Food regulatory authorities across Australia will make sure all food produced and sold meets the minimum requirements. The functions of food regulatory authorities include:

  • monitoring food safety standards under the Food Act
  • licensing and registration and notification of food businesses
  • investigating food-related complaints
  • coordinating recalls of food products, and
  • prosecuting businesses for offences under the Act.

Powers of authorised officers

Environmental health officers are vested with the wide-sweeping powers which include entering and inspecting food premises, taking samples, photos or audio recordings, examining records, detaining or seizing food and equipment.

If an environmental health officer determines the required food standards are not being met, they have the power to issue:

  • An improvement notice: setting out the defects observed by the authorised officer, what action the food business must take to comply and the completion date.
  • A prohibition order: preventing the food business from producing food (trading) or using specific equipment until they comply.

Each defect identified in the inspection is an offence under the Act and the majority attract an on-the-spot fine. If an offence is taken to court, a food business (or body corporate) can be liable to pay up to $250,000 per offence.

The way forward

Food business owners and managers must understand their obligations under the Food Act in respect of registration and licensing, employee supervision and food safety standards.

The consequences of failing to meet food safety laws can have an impact financially and on the reputation of a business and owners and managers.


Health authorities will pursue breaches of the Act in court. It is imperative that food business owners and managers get on the front foot in managing food safety. A conviction and fines are not good for business let alone the added burden of unwanted media attention.


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