Hygiene failures in the food services sector cost $1.5b a year

Hygiene failures in the food services sector are costing the Australian economy $1.5 billion a year.

Restaurants were the largest source of outbreaks, 45 per cent, followed by aged care, 8 per cent, commercial catering, 7 per cent, and takeaway, 7 per cent and bakeries, 3 per cent.

“Food service businesses have been linked to a large proportion of foodborne illness in Australia, and continue to be a significant source of illness,” FSANZ’s Call for submissions paper for Proposal P1053, released on Monday, says.

“This indicates failures in key food handling activities for potentially hazardous food.”

The cases are estimated to cost the national economy $1.5 billion annually, the report found.

The revelations come as FSANZ seeks public comment on proposed new food safety management standards for the food service sector.

Three specific food safety measures are being slated: having a food safety supervisor on staff, training food handlers and ensuring businesses can provide evidence to substantiate food safety management.

Businesses will fall into one of three categories, with those associated with high food safety risks required to apply more food safety measures than those with lower risks.

The measures would be backed by an education campaign for businesses and environmental health officers.

The approach aims to have the greatest impact on reducing foodborne illness in Australian food settings without unnecessary regulatory burden.

“The majority of businesses do an excellent job in providing Australians with safe food, however our assessment of food safety management practices in the sector has found a need for strengthened standards to ensure greater consistency and reduce rates of foodborne illness,” Dr Cuthbert said.

“The proposed changes will help food businesses enhance their food safety management practices, delivering safer food to consumers and supporting improved business and consumer confidence.”

The FSANZ report noted challenges in identifying and attributing illness to a particular food, adding “this is not always achieved”.

But where a specific food could be attributed to an outbreak, raw eggs were reportedly most to blame for foodborne illness in food services and related retail settings.

Other sources of contamination identified in outbreaks from restaurants, commercial caterers or takeaway settings included eating contaminated raw products, inadequate cleaning of equipment, cross contamination from raw ingredients, insufficient cooking, food left at room temperature and inadequate refrigeration.

Foodborne illness outbreaks linked to the food service and retail businesses resulted in 9497 cases of illness, 1914 hospitalisations and 56 reported deaths between 2010 and 2017, the report said.

FSANZ is calling for public comment on the proposed changes until April 11.

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