Health and hygiene responsibilities for food business

Food businesses have an overarching responsibility to ensure the safety of the food they produce. Under Standards 3.2.2 and 3.2.3 of the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (the Code), there specific health and hygiene requirements are set out for food businesses. These include responsibilities around the health of food handlers, the hygiene practices of food handlers and other general duties.

Health of food handlers when unwell

Both food handlers and food businesses have specified legal responsibilities to ensure that food is not to be prepared or handled by anyone who is suffering from a gastrointestinal illness.

Food handlers

If you handle food while suffering from or recovering from a gastrointestinal illness, there is a likelihood that food can become contaminated.

It is an offence under the Code to handle food while suffering from, or recovering from a gastrointestinal illness.

If suffering from gastroenteritis, SA Health recommends you should not return to work at least 48 hours after all symptoms have stopped. Symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhoea, sore throat, fevers. If you have these symptoms or suspect that you are suffering from a food borne disease or are a carrier, legally you must notify your workplace.

It is also an offence if you handle food whilst unwell and do not notify your workplace.

Food businesses

Food businesses have a legal responsibility to ensure that food handlers who are suffering from or are a carrier of a food borne disease do not engage in any food handling activities.

This can also include food handlers which are known or reasonably suspected to have a symptom indicating that they are suffering from a food borne disease. If no activities are suitable, or the facilities are not adequate to prevent the risk of contamination, the food handler can be restricted from a food business completely.

Food businesses may exclude a food handler from handling food or working within a food premises until they receive advice from a medical practitioner that they are no longer suffering from or a carrier of a food borne disease or until at least 48 hours after all symptoms have stopped.

It is an offence if a food business knowingly allows a food handler to handle food while suffering from, or recovering from a gastrointestinal illness.

Apart from the proprietor or an authorised officer, food businesses must protect the privacy of the food handler with regards to the information they provide in relation to health and hygiene matters.

Hygiene of food handlers

Hand washing

Food businesses are responsible for providing easily accessible hand washing facilities in areas where food handlers work. This may include installing multiple hand wash basins if the preparation area is large, or there are multiple food preparation sections within the business. 

Hand wash facilities must be designated for the sole purpose of washing the hands, arms or face and must be appropriately equipped with warm running water, soap and single use towels (and a nearby waste receptacle for the towels).

The Code also sets out specific circumstances when food handlers must wash their hands, primarily whenever there is the likelihood of hands being contaminated and before commencing food (or food contact surface) handling. The Code also states how hands must be washed.

For more information see SA Health’s hand washing fact sheet (PDF 111KB).

Other general duties

Food businesses must take all practicable measures to ensure that all people on the food premises:

  • do not contaminate food
  • do not have unnecessary contact with ready-to-eat food
  • do not spit, smoke, or use tobacco or similar preparations in areas where there is unprotected food or surfaces that are likely to come into contact with food.

Although food handlers are responsible for the safe handling of food, it is the food business’ responsibility to ensure that all food handlers are informed of their health and hygiene obligations.

Food handler health and hygiene resources

Resources to assist businesses in informing food handlers of their health and hygiene obligations are available on the Resources for Food Businesses web page. More information can also be found on the Skills and knowledge for food handlers web page, which includes a link to the free online food safety training program DoFoodSafely.  

Further information

For further information on food business' health and hygiene responsibilities, contact your local council's Environmental Health Department or SA Health's Food and Controlled Drugs Branch.