New rules for imported foods into Australia

We’ve all come to love those delicious exotic delicacies in our fridge originating from around the world. But these imported foods are not always as harmless as they seem and can pose serious health risks such as the tropical fruit cassava and the Sardinian cheese, Casu Marzu.

Two weeks ago, on 21 September 2018, the Imported Food Control Amendment Act 2018  (the Amendment Act) received royal assent.  The Amendment Act introduces various changes to the previously existing Imported Food Control Act 1992 with the aim of improving food safety and addressing health risks in Australia caused by imported foods.  These changes are a response to the increased complexity posed by globalised food supply chains and their corresponding risks, as well as an increased demand for imported foods.  The Amendment Act reflects input from food importers, industry representatives, domestic food regulators, the Australian public and Australia’s trading partners following the consultation process.

So, what are the key changes?

  1. Certificates: The introduction of a food safety management certificate for certain foods.  This is necessary where at-border testing on its own is inadequate to ensure food safety standards are met.
  2. Supply chain: The introduction of a transparency requirement whereby, if requested, any importer is to produce documentation regarding the ‘traceability’ of imported food.  This is intended to monitor both directions of the food supply chain.
  3. Customs: Under Australia’s emergency powers, food can now be held at the border for up to 28 days if there is any concern regarding food safety.
  4. Inspections: Changes have been made to imported food inspections, including an increase of inspections, and analysis for up to six months after new and emerging imported food has been introduced into Australia.
  5. Foreign proceedings: International food safety regulatory systems can now be recognised if they are considered to be equivalent to Australia’s food safety regulatory system, resulting in a decrease in inspection requirements.

Key take aways

Businesses involved in the importation of food products should carefully consider the Amendment Act and how it will affect their operations. Whilst the majority of the amendments came into immediate effect on 21 September 2018, businesses will have 12 months to ensure compliance with the changes relating to documentary evidence and traceability requirements, and the requirements for food safety management certificates for certain types of foods.

This blog was co-authored by Josephine Gardiner, Jessie Buchan and Melinda Upton.