Poor food safety regulation puts WA public at risk

West Australia’s auditor general has ordered local councils across the state to lift their game after finding shortcomings in food safety regulation that potentially put the public at risk.

WA Auditor General Caroline Spencer

In WA, local government is responsible for regulating food businesses in their area and ensuring they comply with food safety legislation and standards across a range of areas including hand washing facilities, food temperature control, pest control, storage of rubbish and chemicals, and food contamination.

Auditor General Caroline Spencer investigated two unidentified councils with large numbers of cafes, restaurants and bars in their local area.

“Current inspection and enforcement processes in the two audited LG entities do not support an effective risk-based approach for regulating food businesses,” she concluded.

“LG entities have deviated from the better practice inspection frequencies and have not documented why. Therefore, they have less information about whether businesses are meeting food safety standards.”

Overdue inspections

The audit found  that overall 30 per cent of high to medium risk food business inspections were overdue. Aged care facilities and restaurants that sell uncooked seafood are considered high-risk.

Almost half the high risk and a third of medium businesses inspections in one council’s LGA were overdue by an average of nine months.

At the second council 44 per cent of high and 21 per cent of medium risk business inspections were overdue by more than a year.

Ms Spencer also found poor record management was preventing effective regulation, as was a lack of follow up or enforcement of safety standard compliance.

Poor record keeping

 Inspection and enforcement data was poorly kept at both councils.

An inspection of a sample of 35 food safety assessment forms found many were missing details and difficult to read. For example, in some, the type and details of an assessment weren’t marked and handwriting was illegible.

In one case a business was identified as having “multiple items of serious non-compliance” including feeding cats in the kitchen, but was never reassessed.

Meanwhile, the OAG also discovered during a random search that one local business was operating unknown to council and without registration.

“At the two entities we found many food business inspections were overdue, record keeping was poor and follow-up and enforcement actions were not always consistent or completed,” Ms Spencer said.

“These weaknesses increase the risk that unsafe food practices are not fixed, and the public consumes hazardous food.”

Both councils had undertaken to improve inspections and compliance reporting, Ms Spencer said.

Although the audit only focussed on two councils she said all local government bodies should consider the findings of the report against their practices.

“I trust the findings in the report will help all LG entities with their compliance activities as food businesses continue to reopen in full, as a result of the easing of COVID-19 restrictions,” she said.

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