Food outlets to face regular inspections

TWEED eateries will be subjected to a rigorous food inspection regime for the first time, following concerns that self-regulation is proving inadequate.

The move is expected to be welcomed by the public but is certain to spark a backlash by food retailers who will have to pay annual administrative charges ranging from $250 to $2000 plus inspection fees.

The council decided to establish a special unit dedicated to carrying out inspections of food premises as part of its draft budget for 2008-09 which it adopted last night.

The unit will conduct regular inspections, replacing a system where they were conducted on a random basis or when a complaint had been received from the public.

Working in partnership with the NSW Food Authority, the unit is currently undertaking an audit of the shire's estimated 400 retail food outlets to categorise their potential level of risk to the public.

At the lowest end of the scale will be level-0 establishments such as pharmacies and newsagents which will only be inspected following a complaint.

Next are level-one premises such as greengrocers and bread shops which will be inspected once a year, followed by level-two outlets such as kiosks and restaurants which will have two inspections a year.

Those with five or less staff handling food will pay an annual administration fee of $250, those with six to 50 staff will pay a $500 fee and those with 50 or more staff such as clubs will pay $2000.

On top owners of most food retail stores will be slugged with an inspection fee of $105 while owners of hotels will be charged a minimum of $180. A further $330 will be incurred if an improvement notice is incurred.

Restaurant and coffee shop owners reacted angrily to the proposed changes when contacted by the Tweed Daily News yesterday.

Owner of the Blue Frog Patisserie Andre Le Nair said he had no problems with the proposed inspection regime, but considered the fees outrageous.

"It's just another impost on small businesses which will make it harder to survive, particularly at a time when interest rates are increasing and customers are not spending as much as they used too," Mr Le Nair said.

"It comes on top of an increase in fees for outdoor tables which has almost doubled the cost of providing outside dining facilities."

His views were shared by the owner of the nearby Shell's on Broadway cafe, Shelly Leape, who said it would make it even tougher for small businesses to turn a reasonable profit.

A report to the council justifying the proposed new regime said many food handlers had received inadequate training in food and personal hygiene, and customers expected food premises to be clean and properly designed.

The proposed new fees and charges will be advertised for public comment for 28 days.

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