In 2014, new legislation relating to the Food Act was passed by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), bringing about major changes for Aucklanders who required a food licence to trade and operate, as well as those who previously didn't need one.
The Act went live in 2016 but the existing businesses were given a three-year transition period which ended in February this year.
Auckland Council's Environmental Health team saw this as an opportunity to identify and educate new and existing customers on the new legislation. Over that period, the team helped 2343 businesses to become compliant and meet the new standards.
8000 businesses to notify
Environmental Health's Principal Specialist Sharmila Narayan says the scale of the notifying businesses was quite daunting.
"We knew we had approximately 8000 businesses that we had to notify. That alone is quite a challenging task when you think of the diverse range of customers that are included.
"We also had to consider the businesses that we didn't know about because they weren't previously impacted by the food hygiene regulations. Places like early childhood education services, school tuck-shops, rest homes now needed to comply with the new regulations, and they didn't even know."
The team created four Associate Environmental Health Officer roles to proactively work with customers on the changes so that they would be compliant by the end of the transition period.
The officers did several things to identify and assist impacted customers:
- contacted the Ministry of Education for a list of their registered early childhood education centres to determine which ones would be impacted by the new regulations
- created flyers for schools to contact the council to register their tuck-shops and held open days and evenings across the region for staff to attend
Overall there were 38 different food sectors that had to be transitioned to the new legislation, and each sector needed independent messaging as their requirements were all different.
Working around the clock to accommodate our customers
Auckland Council officers visited businesses that were affected by the changes and then set up workshops across the region to help them understand the changes and what their obligations were and what they needed to do to re-register.
Manager of Regulatory Support Joanne Popata says the officers were thorough in their work.
"The officers worked around the clock to accommodate our customers. They were there after-hours, over the weekend, working with customers who had varied reading and writing abilities.
"Based on the bookings for the workshops they were able to arrange translators to be present and gave out collateral in different languages. This helped attendees get a better understanding of the changes."
The sessions were held across Tāmaki Makaurau, taking place as far north as Wellsford right down to Pukekohe.
Taking away the 'scary' factor
Associate Environmental Health Officer Rowan Hewett says that the workshops were key in transitioning a lot of the businesses.
"The workshops gave customers an opportunity to talk face-to-face with someone and ask questions. It also took the 'scary' factor out of the new legislation and registration process, and meant the applications were completed correctly which made the support teams job a lot easier too."
The hard work hasn't stopped there for the Environmental Health team. They are still working with businesses who haven't met the new standards and are trying to identify common factors, so they can provide specific advice to the businesses.
The team has received some great feedback from the businesses they have worked with and have been praised for being patient, thorough, knowledgeable and helpful.