All food imported into Australia must comply with the requirements of the Imported Food Control Act 1992 (the Act). The applicable standards under the Act are those set down in the Australian and New Zealand Food Standards Code.
Under the Imported Food Inspection Scheme (IFIS), food is subjected to inspection and testing by authorised officers to ensure compliance with the Food Standards Code. Food imported into Australia is classified into two inspection categories:
These categories determine the frequency of testing and the tests that will be applied.
When a surveillance food is found not to comply with Australian standards, the department can apply a holding order. A holding order is a legal mechanism under the Act which ensures that future comparable consignments of a failed food are referred to the department to ensure the reason that the food failed has been rectified.
Food subject to a holding order will be inspected at a rate of 100 per cent to monitor future consignments and confirm that action has been taken by the manufacturer or importer to ensure the food now complies with Australian standards.
A holding order will remain in force until the food subject to the holding order demonstrates continued compliance with Australian standards. This is usually when five consecutive consignments comply with Australian Standards.
What happens to a food that fails the first inspection?
Owners of imported food that fail inspection have the following options available:
- bring the food into compliance
- downgrade the food (if applicable)
- export the food
- destroy the food.
It is the responsibility of the importer to ensure that imported food meets the applicable standards under the Act. It is an offence under the Act to knowingly import a food that does not comply with the Act.
How do I know if a food is subject to a holding order?
The Food Control Certificate issued by the department prior to inspection will advise importers if any food in a consignment is subject to a holding order. Food subject to a holding order will not be granted a release until the food has passed inspection or inspection and analysis.
There is no published list of foods that are subject to a holding order; the department will advise the original importer that a food has failed. The department is legally bound to keep information about food importers, and this information is classed as confidential.
Will food on a holding order be allowed into Australia and what happens if the food fails?
The application of a holding order to a consignment of food does not mean that the food will not be allowed onto the Australian market the next time it is imported.
If the importer or owner has arranged for the initial problem to be corrected and the food passes inspection, the food can be released for distribution, and this will count as a pass against the holding order. Some labelling deficiencies may be corrected at the time of importation and prior to inspection by officers of the Imported Food Inspection Scheme.
How is a holding order revoked?
A holding order can be revoked if:
- five consecutive consignments pass inspection or inspection and analysis, or
- standards or testing requirements change and the holding order is no longer appropriate, or
- information is provided to the Secretary of the Australian Government Department of Agriculture evidencing that the food complies with the Food Standards Code.
Once the holding order is revoked the referral rate for the food subject to the holding order is returned to the surveillance rate of inspection.