Mr GEOFF PROVEST:
My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industries, and Minister for Small Business. How is the New South Wales Government ensuring the highest food safety standards for consumers?
Ms KATRINA HODGKINSON:
I thank the member, who is 100 per cent for the Tweed, for his very timely question and for his obvious interest in safe food preparation and handling in New South Wales eateries. This week is Australian Food Safety Week. No-one wants to suffer from food poisoning but, as we all know, anybody can be subjected to it. It is very timely to remind the community about the importance of food safety and the practical steps that can be taken to minimise the very real risks of food-borne illness.
The ability to access safe and nutritious food while avoiding food-borne illness is a fundamental issue for everyone. Apart from the very obvious unpleasant side effects of food-borne illness, food poisoning is estimated to cost this State a whopping $416 million each year. The need to minimise the risk of food-borne illness is even more important for people in the community who naturally are placed at greater risk—people such as the elderly, babies, infants, pregnant women and those with any one of a range of conditions that affect immune systems. It is vital for people to be aware of the risks involved in preparing and handling food, particularly people who are in the more vulnerable groups.
The O'Farrell-Stoner Government is taking the opportunity presented by Australian Food Safety Week to help to promote messages about safe food preparation and handling. In New South Wales the Food Authority provides information on safe food handling for children, pregnant women, people with low immunity, people with major illness, and elderly people. Recently the authority developed a series of materials aimed at protecting food consumers who have heightened needs when it comes to food safety. Approximately 90,000 New South Wales women fall pregnant every year, many for the first time. For them, the health and safety of their unborn baby obviously is paramount. But, despite that, more than half of the pregnant women surveyed in recent research commissioned by the New South Wales Food Authority were unsure about which foods to avoid during pregnancy. For example, some fish have high levels of mercury and some cheeses should be avoided.
Mr Adrian Piccoli:
Ms KATRINA HODGKINSON:
As the Minister for Education points out, pregnant women should avoid salami and processed meat generally. What are the risks to pregnant women associated with food? A pregnancy booklet and wallet card have been developed and distributed widely throughout the State to councils and medical clinics. They can be ordered through the New South Wales Food Authority's website. The wallet card has been applauded by the Australian Medical Association and the Australian College of Midwives. A councillor of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Andrew Zuschmann, said that the association is pleased to see that this important dietary advice is being provided to new and expectant mothers.
Materials are being produced that give advice to the food service industry—which includes cafés and restaurants, catering organisations, delicatessens and fast-food outlets—to help reduce allergic reactions in people who eat out. Food allergies are a serious issue that can have devastating effects and sometimes even fatal consequences if they are not correctly understood and managed by all who are involved in the food service industry. Studies from throughout the world demonstrate that a majority of severe allergic reactions occur when people are eating outside their home. That is why it is so vital that all people working in the food service industry understand their roles and responsibilities when preparing and serving food to their customers, particularly those who may have an allergy.
Local businesses and community organisations also have an important role to play in reducing food-borne illness by educating themselves about safe food handling requirements and applying them to their operations. Nobody wants their customers to become ill or suffer from food poisoning. Very simple steps must be followed, but unfortunately there are a few businesses that still do not quite get it. Just this week the Food Authority released its local government activity report, which reveals a very high compliance rate that is well up on previous years. The report demonstrates that 94.2 per cent of food businesses in New South Wales are now food-safety compliant. This is an increase of two percentage points compared with the previous year. The rate of non-compliance over the past three years decreased from 10 per cent in 2008-09 to 7.8 per cent in the following year, and to 5.8 per cent last year. I obviously would like to see a compliance rate of 100 per cent.
The Government will continue to reinforce its message to all food outlets throughout New South Wales about the importance of food safety and food handling. I congratulate regional and rural food businesses on outperforming their metropolitan colleagues by achieving a compliance rate of 96 per cent in relation to food safety. That is great news for both visiting and local diners in our favourite rural and regional tourism locations. The O'Farrell-Stoner Government is committed to ensuring the State's food businesses are given the very best opportunity to meet food safety standards. I again call on all food businesses, community organisations and indeed the whole community to embrace the Australian Food Safety Week message of safe food preparation and handling.