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Monday, July 20, 2009

Only a glimpse of Victorian food hygiene standards

Mark Russell in The Sunday Age reports

"The veil of secrecy protecting Melbourne's restaurants and cafes caught dishing up contaminated food will be lifted next year. The State Government expects a "name and shame" food hygiene website to be up and running by July 1. The website will be similar to one in NSW that has attracted more than 2.3 million visitors since its launch a year ago."

The veil however won't be lifted as much as it should, or as much as it has in NSW, despite the claim by a spokeswoman for the Minister for Health that the Food Amendment (Regulation Reform) Bill currently before the Parliament will deliver the goods. The Bill ( Clause 27) will require the publication on a website of convictions for offences, which of course are court imposed, and while this would provide convenient access, only involves information that is already in the public domain. What is different about the NSW Register is that it also includes information about penalty infringement notices issued after council or Food Authority inspections. These are not convictions, but represent findings that may or may not be disputed. The Victorian Bill (Clause 39) provides for infringement notices to be issued but makes no provision for inclusion of notices issued on a publicly available register.

Last week the NSW Authority went a step further than the NSW Act requires in releasing in response to a Freedom of Information application, details of the number of inspections undertaken, providing for the first time a list of of those councils which don't appear to attach a priority to this aspect of regulatory responsibility.

On my reading, Victoria is following a Western Australian lead in only mandating publication of the register of convictions. A more serious effort to lift hygiene standards would involve opening up the inspection regime to public scrutiny by ensuring publication of results of all inspections (good as well as poor findings), any enforcable undertakings (Clause 34) entered into, and penalty infringement notices and convictions, with scope for the proprietor to add information about rectification of identified problems.

1 comment:

  1. I agree. Based on what we have learned from NSW, I have already doubted that this new law will force local councils to perform inspections to the same uniform standards and report in a mandatory fashion to the state health department. Part of the problem is that there are no consistent standards between councils and the state government does not know what they are doing because it has not previously demanded to receive all the data, and apparently has not received it in a consistent format.