Dodgy food outlets may continue to operate

NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 05:00 18/12/2012
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FAIRFAX
RATS TO THAT: A Food Bill before Parliament could lead to the introduction of a national grading system for food premises.

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Christchurch eateries caught with rats, unsafe equipment or contaminated food cannot be shut down instantly, despite other New Zealand councils being able to do so.

Local authorities are required to inspect all food premises at least once a year under the Food Hygiene Regulations 1974, but monitoring systems differ considerably from region to region.

The regulations allow councils to implement bylaws giving them power to close or grade eateries, but the Christchurch City Council has not considered such a bylaw, meaning unfit food premises can continue to operate unless the Ministry for Primary Industries is called.

A ministry spokesman said about 40 councils, or 55 per cent, had food bylaws.

However, a Food Bill before Parliament could lead to the introduction of a national grading system for food premises.

Council inspections and enforcement manager Gary Lennan said Christchurch had not needed a bylaw and the Food Bill made it "redundant" for the council to consider one now.

"If during our annual inspection of food premises we become aware of a premises that may require closure, we ask for assistance from [the ministry], whose Food Act officers have such powers under the Food Act 1981."

However, if no grading system was included in the law change, the council would consider a bylaw, he said.

The Wellington City Council implemented a bylaw in 1994, allowing its officers to close dodgy food premises. About 30 have been shut down temporarily in the past five years.

Council operations and business development team leader Raaj Govinda said the bylaw meant the council did not have to wait for ministry assistance before taking action.

"It's saved us a lot of time. I would definitely [recommend] the bylaw option. At the end of the day, it's protecting the public and customer service."

The new bill would be stricter on food premises, and the Christchurch council's plan to wait until it passed was sensible, he said.

The Auckland Council is consolidating its seven bylaws relating to food premises after the merger of seven territorial authorities in 2010.

Ian Milnes, Auckland's licensing and compliance manager, said having a bylaw to deal with food premises was "a very useful tool".

"It keeps it all in-house. It makes it a one-stop shop and it's quicker," he said.

Restaurant Association Canterbury president and Cafe Valentino owner Michael Turner said the industry would accommodate any changes made by the Food Bill, but the association did not believe a grading system was necessary.

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"The city council maintain a very good inspection system and I would say that goes a long way to keeping premises up to standard. In Canterbury, the restaurant owners seem to be pretty good," he said.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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