This in from the Noble Palace:
Noble Palace would like to advise our customers that we have posted an update on our website outlining our view on the current food safety debate.
Over this long weekend we noticed a new set of articles and announcements published in the Canberra Times discussing the issue of Food Safety and the ACT Government’s plans for the next few years.
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Although we are happy to see some response from the ACT Government, we get the impression that diverting the discussion away from the current procedural inadequacies and instead proposing an arguably more elaborate system does not the address current concerns from business. We think these public announcements are missing the point and may confuse people on what is really in question here.
With both the ACT Auditor General’s report and the KMPG Impact Statement mentioning concerns of serious deficiencies in the procedures of the ACT Health Protection Service, we are disappointed that the ACT Government does not appear to be as concerned about it as we are.
Reading through the arduous KMPG Impact Statement and also the media rhetoric, it appears they’ve missed the point and the opportunity for productive debate. There is a lot of mention of improving transparency in the food services industry with various obligations by businesses in moving forward, however there is little talk of whether the current procedures are working properly and what ACT Health are doing to ensure they are consistently implementing their current monitoring activities throughout restaurants in the ACT and what they will do to ensure any future activities are implemented properly. Without such assurances from the ACT Government and with shifting goal posts, it’s difficult to see how we can look forward as restaurant owners.
As small business owners ourselves, we have no particular preference for the type of monitoring system implemented by ACT Health, whether it’s a simple Pass/Fail outcome or a more involved Ratings Score, however our concern is that any system chosen by the ACT Government is implemented in a fair, open and consistent manner with standard procedures and therefore a meaningful result. We also have no particular issue with the current laws of requiring the display of closure notices, the publishing of a public register or the training of designated food safety staff.
In terms of the proposed “Scores on Doors” system, the idea of aggregating a myriad of individual assessments and reports into a single, easily identifiable icon, could easily result in the unintended consequence of even less transparency, by masking the agency’s own procedures and suppressing more helpful information such as inspections reports, improvement notices and compliance activities by businesses themselves. There is no mention of what other information will be published in order to give the public a more complete view than just a simple rating and to ensure transparency on both ends.
For reference, this is what the ACT Auditor General’s office had to say after their December 2011 Audit of the ACT Health Protection Service:
“at the time of Audit, the Health Protection Service had not developed formal policies and procedures to guide staff in implementing enforcement actions. This contributed to staff adopting different work practices”
“poor record-keeping practices raise doubts about…the effective management of enforcement activities by the Health Protection Service”
“Audit is unable to form a view on whether the food businesses identified as non-compliant have acted to fully meet the food safety requirements specified in the notices.”
“Nor can Audit form a view on whether the Health Protection Service has implemented correct procedures to ensure compliance by the businesses”
“the Health Protection Service has a reactive approach to monitoring non-compliance and in the longer-term this may compromise food safety”
“record keeping which was found to be inadequate”
“poor documentation and record-keeping practices by the Health Protection Service prevents Audit from reaching a conclusion that the Health Protection Service is effectively managing the registration and renewal…of food businesses in the ACT”
“For transparency and accountability purposes, important decisions and the reasons for a particular action should always be fully documented”
“the audit found shortcomings in the ACT Health Protection Service’s administration of food safety that need to be addressed to provide the community assurance that the food they buy and eat is safe”
It is beyond our understanding how a service with the above shortcomings can claim to implement the Food Act in a fair, consistent and open manner.