The objective of this audit was to examine whether food safety is effectively managed for consumers of food in Queensland. In doing so, we examined whether Queensland Health and local governments have a sound approach to managing food risks, are clear about their roles and responsibilities, and are effectively administering and enforcing their duties.
Food safety is an important aspect of public health and wellbeing. Breaches in food safety can result in illness, hospitalisations, and in extreme cases, deaths. In Australia, approximately 5.4 million cases of foodborne illness cost the community $1.2 billion each year.
Since 2010, the number of licensed food businesses in Queensland has increased by 27 per cent. This, coupled with emerging food business innovations (such as market stalls, shared commercial kitchens, food trucks, and online delivery services), has placed huge demands on food regulators.
We recommend that the Department of Health, in collaboration with hospital and health services:
Legislation, governance and frameworks
1. conducts a legislative review of the Food Act 2006 (the Act) to ensure the Act enables effective responses to food safety risks (Chapters 2 and 3)
This should include:
- clarifying Queensland Health’s overall administration role of the Act and enforcement powers
- evaluating the food safety risks, costs, and benefits of the current exemptions to the Act
- making the definition of licensable food businesses clearer and aligning it more to food safety risks
- establishing competency standards and availability requirements for food safety supervisors
- considering public reporting of poor food safety practices or offences.
2. ensures existing governance committees include representatives from local government and hospital and health services, in addition to the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and Safe Food Production Queensland (Chapter 2)
3. in consultation with the Department of Local Government, Racing and Multicultural Affairs, implements a consistent statewide risk-based framework and standards for classifying and inspecting food businesses and for making enforcement decisions (Chapter 2)
This should include:
- minimum standards for inspecting food businesses, investigating complaints, assessing inspection results, and making enforcement decisions, including documentation standards
- redesigning the check audit regime including sampling methodology, timeframes, and capability of check auditors.
Monitoring, data and reporting
4. designs and implements a set of performance measures for statewide food safety outcomes such as reduction in foodborne illnesses over time, results of enforcement actions, and quality of compliance activities (Chapter 2)
5. rectifies its data collection and reporting issues, including:
- providing local governments with better access to update the statewide mobile food business register
- publishing annual reporting of local government food safety activities within a reasonable timeframe
- improving the functionality and the timeliness, quality, and consistency of data capture of the Monitoring, Applications, Permits and Licensing Events (MAPLE) system
- improving project governance and reporting for statewide compliance plan projects (Chapter 3).
6. investigates long-term technology solutions that can support a consistent statewide approach to detecting and managing foodborne illness outbreaks (Chapter 3)
7. identifies training requirements for authorised people to promote consistent regulatory outcomes. The requirements should include skills in gathering evidence, managing a prosecution event, and conducting a check audit (Chapter 3).
We also made the following recommendations to local government.
Brisbane City Council
We recommend that the Brisbane City Council:
8. reviews the risks associated with its licensing inspection processes for new food premises. It should consider whether additional procedures such as follow-up inspections are required within a reasonable timeframe after the food business becomes operational (Chapter 3)
9. ensures consistent adherence to its operating procedures on food safety programs (Chapter 3).
Council of the City of Gold Coast
We recommend that the Council of the City of Gold Coast:
10. improves the configuration of its systems to ensure they can adequately capture extensions granted in accordance with the legislation, effectively manage the backlog of licensing applications, and report on the council’s food safety activities (Chapter 3)
11. ensures consistent adherence to its operating procedures on food safety programs (Chapter 3).
Cairns Regional Council
We recommend that the Cairns Regional Council:
12. continues to improve its food safety licensing and compliance processes and systems to effectively manage the backlog of overdue licensing applications and routine inspections, and ensure service levels can be maintained for local food businesses (Chapter 3)
13. implements detailed council specific operating procedures to complement Queensland Health guidance for, and monitoring and analysis of:
- processing licence applications, including conducting assessments and accrediting food safety programs
- following up on non-compliance issues identified in food safety program audits
- inspecting food premises—including assessment standards
- taking enforcement action (Chapter 3)
14. improves the configuration of the data management system to enable applications to be extended where appropriate in accordance with the legislation (Chapter 3).