Key messages

  • Food businesses must comply with food safety laws in the Food Act 1984.
  • Councils enforce food safety laws, using options ranging from advice and warnings, to temporary closure of the premises, to prosecution.
  • Councils can issue penalty infringement notices (fines) for certain offences.

Food businesses must comply with the Food Act’s food safety laws. Councils have a range of enforcement options, including the ability to issue infringement notices for certain food safety or hygiene offences.

Infringement notices make it easier for councils to administer, investigate and enforce the Food Act.

Councils also have the authority to focus enforcement efforts on food premises that pose a greater risk to public health because of noncompliance with the Food Act.

Infringement notices

Offences

Councils are able to issue infringement notices for certain food safety or hygiene offences. This includes a range of offences regarding:

  • failure to store, process, display and transport food
  • lack of cleanliness and adequacy of food premises
  • failure to clean and sanitise food equipment
  • operating food premises without registration or notification
  • failure to keep the required records on site.

The offences listed in ‘Infringement offences under the Food Act 1984’are found in Chapter 3 of the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. These are known as the Food Safety Standards.

For further information about offences, go to Safe Food Australia on the Food Standards Australia New Zealand website.

Enforcement options

When faced with an alleged breach of the legislation, council officers must consider what would be a proportionate response to the case at hand. Enforcement options include:

  • providing advice or guidance to educate a proprietor of a food premises about how to comply
  • issuing a warning
  • issuing an infringement notice
  • taking other statutory action
  • commencing a prosecution.

Council officers have discretion as to whether an infringement notice ought to be issued, and may do so when it is considered appropriate in the given circumstances.

The infringement notice gives councils another way to address what are less severe food safety or hygiene problems, in those cases where a warning or education are not considered sufficient.

‘On the spot’ fines

The standard framework for issuing and enforcing infringement notices across Victoria is underpinned by the Infringements Act 2006 and guidelines issued under that Act by the Attorney-General.

Infringement notices are often referred to as ‘on the spot’ fines. However, this can be misleading.

If an infringement notice is issued ‘on the spot’, the person who receives the notice has the right to request that the council review it, where that person has special or exceptional circumstances or considers the notice contrary to law.

The fine does not have to be paid ‘on the spot’.

See the ‘Infringement system’ page on the Victorian Department of Justice website for general information about infringement notices.

Penalties

The penalties for infringements are expressed in terms of penalty units, which are used to describe a fine. Penalty units are set and calculated according to the Monetary Units Act 2004.

For the 2015–16 financial year (1 July 2015 to 30 June 2016), one penalty unit is $151.67. The rate for penalty units is indexed annually, so that it is raised in line with inflation.

Any changes to penalty units will take effect on 1 July each year.

Example calculation

The penalty (for an individual) for an offence under s. 16(1) of the Food Act – that is, the failure to comply with one of the listed requirements of the Food Standards Code relating to food safety practices – is five penalty units.

This equates to 5 × $151.67 = $758.35 (rounded down to $758.00).

Food premises – temporary closure

Councils provide advice to proprietors and community groups about how to handle food safely.

However, for serious problems, council chief executive officers may temporarily close premises or stop particular food handling activities where this is necessary to protect public health. In such serious cases, the business may only resume operations once the problems have been fixed.

This power is in addition to a councils’ powers to order that premises be cleaned, or other steps be taken, to ensure safe food handling conditions.

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