The Australia New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA) today released a research report on food handling practices in Australian food businesses.  The results of the National Food Handling Benchmark Report showed that businesses have started to use the better practices proposed in the new national food safety standards.

When releasing the report, ANZFA’s Managing Director, Ian Lindenmayer, said that he was pleased that the majority of the food businesses surveyed, such as food manufacturers, food retailers, child care centres, schools, hospitals, cafés and restaurants, both knew about and are implementing safe food handling practices.

“Most significantly, food businesses with a food safety program in place scored better on food safety than those without. A food safety program sets out in writing how a business will ensure that the food they sell is safe. With the exception of Victoria, these programs are voluntary at this stage, yet they make a considerable amount of business sense.

“Large businesses and those handling high risk foods, such as processed meats, poultry, seafood, egg and dairy dishes and prepared salads, were more likely than other businesses to have better knowledge of safe food handling practices and to be using them.

“However, it is disappointing that a small but significant proportion of businesses are not aware of the basics of food safety, such as the need to keep high risk food at the right temperature, to protect food from contamination, to clean and sanitise food preparation equipment properly, and to follow personal hygiene and illness management procedures.

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“For example, over 20% of food businesses did not know the correct temperatures for storing chilled food or for holding hot food safely and a considerable number of food businesses used touch (43%) and/or sight (57%) to check food temperatures. It is also a matter of concern that many food businesses are not following proper personal hygiene practices to ensure the safety of their food, with 17% not having sufficient hand washing facilities, 7% with no soap or hand cleanser and 14% with no warm running water,” Lindenmayer said.

To reduce the risks of producing food that is unsafe, the States and Territories are introducing three new national Food Safety Standards, developed by ANZFA, that require businesses to have safe food handling practices, premises and equipment and this helps ensure food produced in a business is safe for consumers. It is anticipated that these standards will improve food safety practices in food businesses. 

This research was a benchmark study conducted prior to the implementation of the food safety standards and results of future surveys will provide evidence of whether any improvement has occurred. ANZFA commissioned Campbell Research & Consulting to do this research as part of a new initiative to check the effectiveness of new food standards. The research included a national telephone survey of the levels of awareness and knowledge of safe food handling practices in 1200 food businesses across the States and Territories of Australia as well as an additional survey by government health officers of actual food handling practices in over 480 businesses. The study was national and the sample size not great enough to give a statistical breakdown by state or Territory. ANZFA appreciated the assistance of local government officers with the survey. 

“In a 1999 ANZFA report it was estimated that foodborne illnesses cost Australia A$2.6bn (US$1.3bn) each year and that Australians have a one in five chance of contracting food poisoning in any twelve month period. Australia is currently enhancing its surveillance of foodborne illnesses. This will provide better data on changes in the incidence of foodborne illness in Australia and the most likely causes.

“I am delighted that a large number of businesses are conscientious about food safety but am concerned that a significant number don’t have the required basic knowledge and are placing their customers at risk.

“ANZFA has also developed guidelines and fact sheets on the new Food Safety Standards, including translated fact sheets into fifteen languages. This information can be obtained can be obtained from our website The States and Territories have informed ANZFA that this research into food handling is a useful tool to assist them in implementing the food safety standards. I would like to commend the States and Territories for their hard work in assisting their local food businesses with these reforms through a variety of methods including seminars, visits and newsletters,” Lindenmayer concluded.

A copy of the summary and full report is available on the ANZFA website.