Food poisoning

Summer is a great time to enjoy social meals out and at home, but what happens when poorly prepared or stored food leaves you feeling less-than-lively? Simpson Grierson food law specialists Gwendoline Keel and Ciska de Rijk explore what you can do if you suspect food poisoning.

Food poisoning is legally referred to as ‘foodborne illnesses’ resulting from the consumption of contaminated food or drink. Familiar names will be Campylobacter, Salmonella and Listeria, which are usually the ones to blame.

What’s the law got to say?

Changes in the law over the past few years have attempted to crack down further on unsafe food practices. Under the Food Act 2014, most food-related businesses are required to have a food control plan or national programme that sets out what steps need to be taken to make safe food. While most businesses adhere to these plans, an annual report by the Ministry for Primary Industries does suggest that a high number of cases are still being reported each year. The Food Regulations 2015 also impose an obligation upon operators of food-related businesses to ensure that facilities, equipment and premises are maintained in a way that does not adversely affect the safety or suitability of food. So, if everyone is following the rules, there shouldn’t be any funny tummies at all.

I know the culprit, what can I do?

If you believe that you have contracted a foodborne illness as the result of eating unsafe food, you can report it to a health protection officer at your local DHB-based public health unit. These officers are empowered under the Health Act 1956 to oversee the regulatory functions of public health matters, and will investigate reports of unsafe food practices at the restaurant in question. They can serve infringement or improvement notices to business operators, and they even possess powers to close or restrict the use of a place if food safety or suitability is threatened.

Your local council will have an environmental health officer who you can make complaints to about unhygienic food premises or food-handling practices. Common examples include poor personal hygiene of staff or the presence of vermin. Even if you don’t get sick, it’s good to alert these authorities if you see someone be dodgy with your food or accidentally serve you up some sautéed cockroach.

Is it an undeclared allergen that’s got you feeling blue?

If you’re feeling unwell and there’s a possibility that the culprit is an undeclared allergen in your food, there’s a chance the eatery could be breaking the rules. The Food Act 2014 prescribes certain allergens that must be declared on all relevant food labels. If you suspect there is an undeclared allergen in your food, contact the Ministry for Primary Industries food safety division to make a formal complaint.

First published: Feb 2018

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