Food Act 2001 (DHW 2021-22 Annual Report)

Part 9 – Administration

Division 2 – Functions of enforcement agencies

S 93 - Reports by enforcement agencies

(1)   The head of an enforcement agency (other than the relevant authority) is to report to the relevant authority, at such intervals as the relevant authority requires, on the performance of functions under this Act by persons employed or engaged by the agency.

Division 4 – Agreement and consultation with local government sector on administration and enforcement of Act

S 96 – Agreement and consultation with local government sector

(1)   The Minister must take reasonable steps to consult with the Local Government Association (LGA) from time to time in relation to the administration and enforcement of this Act.

(2)   If the Minister and the LGA enter into an agreement with respect to the exercise of functions under this Act by councils, then the Minister must prepare a report on the matter and cause copies of the report to be laid before both Houses of Parliament.

(3)   A report under subsection (2) must be accompanied by a copy of any relevant written agreement between the Minister and the LGA.

(4)   The Minister must consult with the LGA before a regulation that confers any function on councils is made under this Act.

(5)   The annual report of the Minister under this Act must include a specific report on -

(a) the outcome of any consultation undertaken under subsection (1) or (4); and

(b) the operation of any agreement referred to in subsection (2).

S 109 - Annual report

(1) The Minister must, on or before 30 September in each year, prepare a report on the operation of this Act for the financial year ending on the preceding 30 June.

(2) The Minister must, within 6 sitting days after completing a report under this section, cause copies of the report to be laid before both Houses of Parliament.

The objectives of the Food Act 2001 (the Act) are defined in Section 3 of the Act as:

  1. Ensuring that food for sale is safe and suitable for human consumption.
  2. Preventing misleading conduct in connection with the sale of food.
  3. Providing for the application of the Food Standards Code.

The Act closely follows the content and structure of national model food provisions, which provide for the consistent administration and enforcement of food legislation in Australia. This uniform approach to national food legislation was formalised by the Inter-Governmental Food Regulation Agreement 2002. Under the Agreement all states and territories have adopted the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (the Code) through their Food Acts. While the Act contains important legal and administrative issues, such as defining offences and penalties, the Code details the specific requirements with which food businesses must comply.

The objectives of the Food Act 2001 (the Act) and Food Regulations 2017 are to:

  • ensure food for sale is both safe and suitable for human consumption.
  • prevent misleading conduct in connection with the sale of food.
  • ensure the Food Standards Code (the Code) can be applied to food businesses in South Australia.

To meet the objectives of the Act, the Act requires the Department for Health and Wellbeing (the Department) to:

  • undertake measures to ensure the effective administration and enforcement of this Act.
  • approve laboratories and analysts to carry out analyses under the Act.
  • approve food safety auditors to carry out audits and monitor compliance of audited facilities.
  • maintain a list of approved food safety auditors.
  • receive food safety audit report results.
  • appoint authorised officers for the Department.
  • prepare an annual report to be submitted to both Houses of Parliament.

The Department administers the Act with assistance from local government and Biosecurity SA, a division of the Department of Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (PIRSA). Activities undertaken by local government under the Act are detailed in Appendix 1, activities undertaken by Biosecurity SA are detailed in this report. Within the Department, the Food Safety and Regulation Branch is responsible for day-to-day administration of the Act with assistance from the Health Protection Operations Section of Health Protection and Licensing Services.

1. Activities of the Food Safety and Regulation Branch

Monitoring Compliance with the Food Act 2001

The Food Safety and Regulation Branch (FSRB) (formerly Food and Controlled Drugs Branch [FCDB]) of the Department carries out functions under the Act to ensure the supply of safe and suitable foods to the South Australian community. This includes investigating foodborne illness incidents, ensuring compliance with compositional and labelling requirements of the Code, assisting businesses to manage food recalls (and mandating recalls where necessary), risk assessing notifications of contaminants in food, managing the food safety audit system across the state, and responding to food safety complaints and general enquiries. Further detail on those activities is presented below.

Food sampling 2021-22

The FSRB conducts sampling of various foods that are of public health concern as part of local or national food safety surveys or to confirm compliance with the compositional and labelling requirements of the Code. A key performance indicator was established to analyse 800 food samples per year. For the 2021-22 financial year, a total of 630 food samples were collected as part of food compliance investigations. This number is somewhat lower than the target due to the impacts of COVID-19 on Department resources and laboratory capacity.

Investigation of food safety issues 2021-22

Food safety related issues come to the attention of the FSRB from a variety of sources including food surveys, complaints from members of the public, reports from the food industry, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) in local government, other regulatory agencies, or notification of illness from the Communicable Disease Control Branch (CDCB).

During 2021-22 after notification from CDCB, the FSRB collaborated with local councils and/or PIRSA to investigate seven foodborne illness outbreaks. Details of the major outbreaks can be found in Appendix 2. Investigations included onsite assessment of food handling practices in food businesses, sampling of food and environmental swabbing. The objectives of these investigations are to remove any risk to public health, establish the cause of the outbreak, ensure food businesses implement short-term and long-term corrective actions and to determine if an offence has been committed against the Act.

FSRB regularly conducts post-incident debriefs to review the effectiveness of policies and procedures applied during incident investigation.

Notifiable contaminants

The South Australian Public Health (Notifiable Contaminants) Regulations 2020  came into force on 19 July 2020, and require specified microorganisms to be reported to FSRB by the analysing laboratory service (or business where the laboratory is interstate) when they are found in food and water samples. Food and water samples include all raw, partly processed (work in progress) and ready-to-eat foods, bottled water and ice, and may also include live plants and animals.

Notifiable contaminants include pathogens like Salmonella, Campylobacter and Listeria monocytogenes which cause foodborne illness, and indicator (non-pathogenic) organisms like Listeria species and E. coli. Indicator organisms do not cause illness but can be used by the business to indicate there may be suitable conditions for pathogenic bacteria to grow, therefore businesses can undertake preventative actions. Further information about pathogenic and indicator organisms can be found in the Compendium of Microbiological Criteria for Food.

The collection of this data aims to support the Australian Foodborne Illness Reduction Strategy 2018-2021+, and to enable national and international profiles of microorganisms of public health significance and their possible sources to be established. It has also allowed SA Health to establish contacts with South Australian businesses and created an opportunity to encourage partnerships for the betterment of public health. 

When notifications are received, SA Health conducts a risk assessment to determine what, if any, actions are required. During the reporting period a total of 581 notifiable contaminants were notified to SA Health as summarised in Table 1. In many instances action was not required as there was no risk to public health, for example where notifications were of indicator (non-pathogenic) organisms, when products were not available for sale to the public or when products should be cooked by the consumer to destroy foodborne pathogens. Four notifications resulted in product recalls.

Table 1: Summary of notifiable contaminant notifications in 2021-22

Summary of notifiable contaminant notifications in 2021-22
Product type No. of notifications No. of notifications where action was required
Raw meat and poultry products 358 0
All other foods 223 4
Total 581 4

Listeria monocytogenes is a micro-organism of specific concern to public health as it poses risk of severe illness to vulnerable persons if ingested. In the reporting period there were 17 notifications of Listeria monocytogenes, all of which were investigated. Table 2 provides a summary of the investigation outcomes.

The Listeria monocytogenes isolates were submitted for Whole Genome Sequencing and analysed against the national database. These food isolates have not been linked to any human cases to date.

Table 2: Summary of investigation outcomes for Listeria monocytogenes notifications in 2021-22

Summary of notifiable contaminant notifications in 2021-22
Product type No. of notifications
Notifications leading to recalls* 4
Product met the criteria of Standard 1.6.1 (did not support the growth of Listeria monocytogenes) 0
Trial products or work in progress 0
Product subject to test and hold procedures and not released for sale 6
Product was not ready-to eat and required cooking by the consumer 7
Referred to the jurisdiction the product was made in** 0
Total 17


*Three notifications were linked to one recall

**Notifications are referred to the state/territory jurisdiction where products are made as they are the enforcement agency responsible for investigation and monitoring compliance with the Code.

Food recalls

Standard 3.2.2 of the Code requires food businesses that engage in the wholesale supply, manufacture or importation of food, to have a system in place to ensure the recall of unsafe food. All food recalls are coordinated nationally by FSANZ, with the food business undertaking the recall being responsible for carrying out the recall as soon as an issue is identified. There are two levels of recall, a trade level and a consumer level recall. A trade level recall is conducted when the food has not been available for direct purchase by the public, such as food sold to wholesalers and caterers. A consumer level recall is conducted when the food has been available for retail sale and usually involves advertisements on social media to inform consumers of the recall. The FSRB informs local councils of all recalls affecting South Australia and requests that they check food businesses in their area are complying with the recall.

FSANZ was the coordinator for 77 food recalls nationally during the 2021-22 financial year as summarised in Table 3. In total, SA was affected by 42 recalls meaning recalled product was distributed in the state.

Table 3:  Summary of recalls conducted in 2021-22

Summary of recalls conducted in 2021-22
Type of Recall Number of recalls Reason for Recall Number of recalls by reason Reason for Recall Number of recalls by reason Recalls affecting SA Number of recalls affecting SA
Consumer 71 Undeclared allergens 38 Foreign matter 5 SA & other jurisdictions 39
Trade 3 Microbiological contamination 22 Labelling 3 National 21
Consumer and trade 3 Chemical contamination 1 Other 5 SA only 2

Biotoxin contamination 3

SA not affected 36
Total 77

Total 77

Enforcement actions

The FSRB is responsible for monitoring compliance with Chapters 1 and 2 of the Code for South Australian based food businesses, and is also involved in investigating matters of non-compliance with Chapters 3 and 4 found during audits, surveys, complaints, and investigations of illness. SA Health’s Public Health Services Enforcement Framework provides authorised officers with guidance about the way enforcement activities are to be undertaken.

Local government is responsible for conducting routine food business inspections to monitor compliance with Chapter 3 of the Code and for investigating complaints made against businesses within their jurisdiction. Statistics about local government activities under the Act are provided in Appendix 1.

Where the FSRB identifies non-compliance in a food business, corrective actions are addressed through a graduated and proportionate response. Once effective corrective action is confirmed, no further enforcement action is undertaken. Should non-compliance remain unresolved, enforcement action can be escalated. Table 4 provides a summary of the enforcement activities undertaken by the FSRB.

In November 2021 the FSRB undertook a significant amount of enforcement activity, issuing Emergency Orders to 31 oyster growers in the Coffin Bay region. The Emergency Orders were issued in response to a large multi-jurisdictional outbreak of Vibrio parahaemolyticus that was linked to Coffin Bay Oysters (see Table 10 and Appendix 2). The Emergency Orders directed oyster growers to prohibit the harvest and sale of oysters from Coffin Bay and recall potentially affected oysters from the marketplace.

Table 4:  Enforcement activities undertaken in 2021-22

  • Warning letters 3
  • Expiations issued 0
  • Improvement notices  0
  • Emergency orders  31
  • Prosecutions  0

Activities and enquiries

Table 5 details the number and type of enquiries, complaints, referrals and incident management requests actioned by FSRB in the 2021-22 financial year.

Table 5:  Activity requests in 2021-22

  • Complaints 376
    • Alleged food poisoning 48
    • Allergens 23
    • Food contamination 85
    • Labelling 109
    • Alleged non-compliance with Food Standard 3.2.2 91
    • Alleged non-compliance with Food Standard 3.2.3 20
  • Enquiries 228
    • General food matters 153
    • New business information 46
    • Requests for resources 29
  • Incident Management 316
    • Investigations 15
    • Recalls Enquiries   7
    • Referrals from CDCB 294
  • TOTAL 920

Approval of laboratories and analysts

The Department is responsible for approval of laboratories and analysts to undertake analyses under Sections 63 and 67 of the Act in line with established competency criteria. 

On 30 June 2022, there were nine approved laboratories and 53 approved analysts. The department maintains a list of approved laboratories and analysts on the SA Health website.

Food safety management

Food safety programs have been mandated nationally for businesses providing food to vulnerable populations in hospitals, aged care facilities, childcare centres, and via delivered meals organisations like Meals on Wheels.

National Food Safety Standard 3.3.1 (audited mandatory food safety programs for food services to vulnerable persons) became enforceable in South Australia in October 2008. The Department has continued to liaise with industry, local government and food safety auditors to develop monitoring and review systems, to ensure effective management of the audit process in SA food businesses to whom this standard applies.

In 2021–22, the Department continued to conduct food safety audits of public hospitals, Department of Human Services (DHS) businesses such as Disability Services and not-for-profit delivered meals organisations including Meals on Wheels SA. These facilities are audited at the frequency determined by the performance of individual sites, in line with the priority classification for these businesses. Additionally, the Department conducts food safety audits of specific food processing sectors (e.g., bivalve molluscs, ready-to-eat meats and egg processors) under Food Safety Standards 4.2.1, 4.2.2, 4.2.3 and 4.2.5., where these food businesses undertake activities that are regulated under the Act. Food audit statistics are provided below.

Table 6:  Food audit statistics 2021-22

Food audit statistics 2021-22
Risk classification Number of businesses Routine audits
Public hospitals 73 80
Not-for-profit delivered meals organisations 41 43
Aged care/childcare audited in regional areas / DHS 6 2
Standard 4.2.1 – bivalve molluscs 10 9
Standard 4.2.2 & 4.2.3 – RTE meat 1 1
Standard 4.2.5 – egg processor 1 1

Food Safety Auditor training

The annual SA Health Auditor Forum was held 12 November 2021 and was facilitated by approved food safety auditors from the Department to assist with improving consistency of interpretation and professional development for the auditor workforce.

The Department continues to facilitate the Lead Auditor in Food Safety Management Systems training sessions. One training session was held in the 2021-22 reporting period.

Food Safety Auditor approvals

The Department is responsible for approval of food safety auditors under Section 73, 83 and 84 of the Act in line with established competency criteria. 

In 2021-22, the Department approved/re-approved 36 food safety auditors.

At 30 June 2022, there were 63 approved food safety auditors including Department staff and local government authorised officers. The Department maintains a list of approved auditors on the SA Health Website.

2. Foodborne disease investigations in SA 2021-22

Epidemiological investigations into foodborne disease outbreaks within South Australia (SA) are coordinated by the Disease Surveillance and Investigation Section (DSIS) and OzFoodNet staff who are based within the Communicable Disease Control Branch (CDCB) of SA Health. OzFoodNet is a national network that conducts enhanced foodborne disease surveillance.

OzFoodNet and other CDCB staff work in collaboration with a range of stakeholders when investigating outbreaks. SA Pathology conducts microbiological testing and molecular typing of isolates from humans, food and environmental samples. Local government EHOs and the SA Health Food Safety and Regulation Branch provide food technology and environmental investigation expertise and perform environmental and food premises investigations. PIRSA staff assist with trace back investigations and implement control measures with primary producers where appropriate.

CDCB staff conduct interviews with cases to obtain food histories when clusters of suspected foodborne disease are detected. This information is used to identify frequently consumed food items and can sometimes lead to further investigations. When further investigations are required, it is often in the form of analytical studies that aim to demonstrate a statistical association between illness and the consumption of a particular food item, eating at a particular premises, or an environmental exposure. When a food and/or premise are suspected on epidemiological grounds, laboratory evidence (e.g., microbiological testing of food and environmental samples) can support the observed epidemiological associations.

Often, the specific food vehicle or source of an outbreak is difficult to identify. An implicated food item may no longer be available or suitable for microbiological testing, making it impossible to provide laboratory evidence for the source of an outbreak. Cases may also have difficulty in remembering foods consumed or premises visited if an appreciable time has passed between the exposure and the interview.

During the period of 1 July 2021 to 30 June 2022, SA Health investigated seven outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness that were known or suspected to be foodborne and for which a common source was identified. The settings for the outbreaks were varied and included three associated with restaurants, and one each associated with a bakery, a take-away venue, primary produce, and an aged care facility. These outbreaks are summarised in Table 7 and detailed in Appendix 2.

This summary does not include outbreaks that were suspected to be person-to-person transmission, animal-to-person transmission, or from an environmental source (including swimming pools). All investigation data are subject to change, as this is the nature of clusters and outbreaks.

Table 7:  Summary of foodborne disease investigations in SA in 2021-22

Summary of foodborne disease investigations in SA in 2021-22
N Month and Year Organism Setting No. ill No. laboratory confirmed Evidence
1 Sept 2021 Vibrio parahaemolyticus Primary production 268* 268* D, M
2 Oct 2021 Campylobacter Aged care facility 3 3 D
3 Nov 2021 Salmonella Typhimurium MLVA 03-13-10-08-523 Bakery 5 5 D
4 Nov 2021 Salmonella Typhimurium MLVA 03-15-08-11-550 Restaurant 7 7 D
5 Dec 2021 Salmonella Typhimurium MLVA 03-09-07-13-523 Takeaway 3 3 D
6 Dec 2021 Salmonella Typhimurium MLVA 03-14-10-11-523 Restaurant 6 6 D
7 Mar 2022 Salmonella Enteritidis phage type 4b Restaurant 3 3 D


*=Includes cases resident in all jurisdictions across Australia
No. = Number
D = Descriptive evidence (i.e. information obtained from interviewing cases and/or inspections of premises)
M = Microbiological evidence of pathogen in food vehicle
MLVA= Multi-locus variable number tandem repeat analysis

Cluster Investigations

In addition to the previously mentioned outbreaks, nine clusters of potential foodborne illness for which no common source could be identified, were also investigated between 1 July 2021 and 30 June 2022. A cluster is defined as an increase in a specific infection in terms of time, person or place, where the source and mode of transmission remains unknown.

There were eight clusters of Salmonella and one cluster of Shiga toxin producing E. coli investigated. All clusters were general increases in specific infections in the community without a common source identified and only descriptive evidence was available for each investigation. A summary of clusters investigated is provided in Table 8.

Table 8:  Summary of cluster investigations in SA, 1 July 2021 to 30 June 2022

Summary of cluster investigations in SA, 1 July 2021 to 30 June 2022
No. Month and Year Organism Number ill
1 Nov 2021 Salmonella Saintpaul 9
2 Dec 2021 Salmonella Typhimurium MLVA 03-14-16-10-523 5
3 Dec 2021 Salmonella Typhimurium MLVA 05-23-09-12-457 4
4 Mar 2022 Salmonella Hvittingfoss 7
5 Mar 2022 Salmonella subspecies 1 ser 16:lv:- 4
6 May 2022 Salmonella Typhimurium MLVA 03-15-12-10-523 4
7 Jun 2022 Shiga toxin producing E. coli serogroup O157 10
8 Jun 2022 Salmonella Typhimurium MLVA 03-26-13-09-523 4
9 Jun 2022 Salmonella Saintpaul 4


MLVA= multi-locus variable tandem repeat analysis.

3. Activities of the Health Protection Operations Section

Health Protection Operations (HPO) administers the regulatory functions of the Act in the ‘Out-of-Council Areas’ within SA (‘unincorporated’ and Aboriginal Lands not serviced by a local council). These areas make up approximately 85 per cent of the geographical area of SA and are typically very remote and often isolated, making staff safety a paramount element of all operations.

The vast distances and extreme weather conditions associated with outback SA provide a challenging environment for both food businesses and regulators. Effective and thorough operational procedures ensure that risks associated with such an environment are well managed and appropriate food safety standards are maintained.

HPO staff authorised under the Act are qualified EHOs with extensive regulatory experience in rural, remote and Aboriginal communities. Food safety functions undertaken by HPO include:

  • Monitoring and enforcement of compliance with Food Safety Standards through routine and follow-up inspections of food businesses to ensure that the premises, equipment, and food handling practices will result in the supply and sale of safe and suitable food.
  • Conducting food safety audits of businesses providing food to vulnerable populations.
  • Responding to complaints about food businesses and investigating food poisoning and disease outbreaks.
  • Monitoring and taking action to ensure recalled food is efficiently removed from sale.
  • Processing food business notifications for new businesses or change to business details.
  • Providing food safety advice and delivering educational programs and resources to food businesses, schools and communities.

Statistics about food businesses and surveillance activities are provided below:

Table 9: Authorised officers

Authorised officers
Environmental health qualifications Full-time
6 6

Table 10:  Food business and surveillance activity

Food business and surveillance activity
Area of operation ~ 837,000 km²(≈ 85% of geographic area of SA)
Number of businesses 103
Routine inspections conducted 99
Follow-up inspections conducted 2
Food safety audits conducted 3
Complaint inspections conducted 0

Table 11:  Enforcement actions

Enforcement actions
Business type Improvement notices Expiations Prohibition order
Caterer 2 0 0
Hotel/Pub/Tavern 1 0 0
Roadhouse/service station 0 0 0
Supermarket 0 0 0
Aged Care Facility 0 0 0
Total 3 0 0

4. Biosecurity SA activities under the Food Act 2001

Biosecurity SA is a division of PIRSA and administers the Primary Produce (Food Safety Schemes) (Meat Industry) Regulations 2017 (the Regulations). The Regulations require butcher shops to hold accreditation and comply with relevant food safety standards. Under the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between SA Health and PIRSA, both agencies share risk management principles that minimise regulatory burden and duplication. Several Biosecurity SA officers have been appointed authorised officers under the Act. To avoid duplication, butcher shops that sell food other than meat and conduct activities regulated under the Act are assessed for compliance with the Act by PIRSA officers during their audits.

During 2021-22, 992 audits were conducted by Biosecurity SA officers on 462 butcher shops including supermarkets, where a component of audits assessed other retail activities regulated under the Act. During the audits, 59 Corrective Action Requests (CARs) were issued which related to their food safety program, hygiene or construction, and required follow up visits. No expiation notices or penalties were issued.