Department of Health

Frequently asked questions about the food classification and regulatory changes

What are the eight gazetted high-risk activities?

Class 2 food services and retail food premises are now exempt from the requirement to have a food safety program unless they are undertaking any of the following eight high-risk food handlings activities.

  1. Sous vide cooking, (cooking at less than 75 °C) where the food is cooked under controlled temperature and time conditions inside vacuum sealed packages in water baths or steam ovens.
  2. Any potentially hazardous food that does not involve temperature control to minimise the growth of pathogenic or toxigenic organisms as described in Australia and New Zealand Food Standards Code, Standard 3.2.2.
  3. Preparation of acidified/fermented foods or drinks that are ready to eat and have a high level of acidity required to keep food safe, acid may be naturally present or added or produced by the food (due to microbial activity).
  4. Preparation of ready-to-eat foods containing raw unshelled eggs (unpasteurised).
  5. Preparation of ready-to-eat raw or rare minced/finely chopped red meats.
  6. Preparation of ready-to-eat raw and rare poultry and game meats.
  7. Off-site catering where ready-to-eat potentially hazardous food is prepared or partially prepared in one location, transported to another location, where the food is served at a catering event.
  8. Any other complex food process activity such as:
    • Pasteurisation/thermal processing, where food is heated to a certain temperature for a specified time, to eliminate pathogenic organisms.
    • Packaging food where the oxygen has been removed and/or replaced with other gases for food safety or to increase shelf life of the food.
    • Any food processing activity which does not involve the use of temperature control, to minimise the growth of pathogenic or toxigenic organisms in food, as described in Australia and New Zealand Food Standards Code, Standard 3.2.2.

What is a manufacturer?

A manufacturer is a business that produces products for distribution beyond their local area. Distribution may include regional, national, or international markets. It involves the production of food manufactured from raw ingredients that is typically sold to wholesalers or retailers for distribution to the public.

What is an allergen-free claim?

An allergen-free claim means that food bearing the claim will not contain any detectable traces of the declared allergen, such as milk, or is under the prescribed threshold, such as sulphites. The declared allergens, as at 2022 (refer to the Code Standard 1.2.3-4), are:

  1. wheat /containing gluten
  2. crustacea
  3. egg
  4. fish
  5. milk
  6. peanuts
  7. soybeans
  8. sesame seed
  9. tree nuts (specific nut must be stated)
  10. sulphites (for concentrations of 10 mg/kg or more)
  11. lupin.

A food premises that makes a declared allergen-free claim must demonstrate how this will be achieved in a consistent manner. A declared allergen-free statement must be supported by documentation within the premises’ food safety program (FSP).

An allergen-free claim does not cover nutrition or dietary terms such as vegan, vegetarian, lactose-free or other similar terms. Most dietary terms are not listed under the Code Standard 1.2.3-4 Mandatory declaration of certain substances in food. Terms such as vegan, implies that the food is not made from animal or the by-products of animals and therefore should not contain milk or eggs. However, these terms are not an allergen-free claim and do not impact on the class of a premises.

What are potentially hazardous foods?

Potentially hazardous foods are generally moist, have high nutritional value and may have a relatively neutral pH.

Potentially hazardous foods (PHFs) need to be kept in a manner that minimises growth of pathogenic microorganisms or prevents the formation of toxins. Potentially hazardous foods may or may not be ready-to-eat foods (RTE) for immediate consumption and may include foods that are raw, or may require reheating, portioned or are garnished prior to being served.

Examples of PHFs include:

  • processed fruit and vegetables
  • salads
  • fruit salad
  • juices
  • pasta/rice dishes
  • fish
  • seafood
  • chicken
  • meat and meat meals
  • smallgoods
  • casseroles
  • curries
  • dairy products (such as custard and cream)
  • foods containing eggs.

PHFs normally require temperature control, have a high water activity (aw) range (Staphylococcus aureus can grow at aw 0.83), or a relative neutral pH value (Salmonella spp. can grow at pH 4.2).

How is a cake with cream or custard classed?

The cooking process of baked products will remove moisture from the product with the surface being drier than the middle of the product. Baked cakes normally have aw of between 0.90 and 0.94 with the surface being lower. At these levels most pathogens, but not all, are unlikely to be supported. The aw value may vary depending on the processes applied and ingredients used within the product. For this reason, a baked cake will not require temperature control for food safety.

However, if ingredients such as fresh cream, custard, fruits or any other PHF is added to the product after it has been cooked, temperature and time control factors must be implemented. Cream or custard will have a high aw and a relatively neutral pH that will support the growth of pathogens if left at room temperature for long periods of time. This is a class 2 activity.

Are all meats potentially hazardous?

Raw meat and poultry support the growth of pathogens, due to the nutrient content of the food, the aw of >0.99 and a pH in a range of 5-7.

All raw meats, including chicken, are potentially hazardous and must be kept under temperature control to reduce the growth of pathogens. When red meat and poultry are cooked or processed, the bacterial load from the raw product is greatly reduced. However, cooking does not destroy all bacteria and spores, so correct handling and storage must be implemented to prevent the growth and/or the introduction of pathogens.

Are all fruit and vegetables potentially hazardous?

Fruit and vegetables have pathogens on the surface. As fruit and vegetables are processed, the introduction of pathogens may occur through poor food handling and temperature abuse. The intrinsic factors of most fruit and vegetables will encourage the growth of pathogens. This is because most fruit and vegetables have a:

  • high aw supporting the growth of pathogens
  • a pH level likely to vary from neutral to acidic. pH levels below 4.2 are recommended for the control of pathogens. However, certain strains of Salmonella spp. and coli can adapt to pH levels below 4.2.

For example:

  • Class 2: processing of fruit and vegetables into a fruit salad or bottled juices is a high-risk practice where the level of control to minimise contamination needs to be greater. Correct food handling, temperature and time control is required.
  • Class 3: a greengrocer that cuts a watermelon in half needs to implement good hygiene practices, such as hand washing, the use of clean knives and chopping boards, and disposal of all unrefrigerated cut fruit at the end of the day.

There is a lack of evidence indicating the display of cut fruit and vegetables at a fruit shop at room temperature for a day poses a public health risk. For this reason, premises such as grocery stores that cut melons in half do not need to be managed in the same manner as a premises that further processes fruit/vegetables, for example into fruit salad.

  • Class 4: a greengrocer selling whole fruits and vegetables where the consumer needs to wash the purchased fruit and vegetables before consuming.

Is raw dough potentially hazardous?

Dough can be consumed raw, and it can also be used to make baked goods. Flour used in the making of raw dough does not go through a heating process. The process of grinding and drying to create the flour is not a ‘kill step’. Food poisoning pathogens may survive, however, due to the environmental conditions, they will not multiply. When water is added to flour the potential for food poisoning bacteria to multiply in favourable conditions is present. Time and temperature controls are required to minimise the growth of pathogens and correct food handling practices must be implemented to minimise the introduction of pathogens.

Why are pre-packaged, potentially hazardous foods classified as class 3?

Pre-packaged, potentially hazardous RTE foods require temperature control to ensure the food remains safe. Pre-packaged food is sealed within a package prior to entering the retail business and remains in that package until sold.

These foods can include pre-packaged dairy, meats and cooked chicken, salads, fruit salad, sandwiches. As the food is sold in a pre-packaged state, it is unlikely to be contaminated through incorrect food handling practices. However, food storage practices that monitor time and temperature control will be required as the pathogens/spores may multiply if the temperature is unsuitable and there is sufficient time.

Why are low-risk foods that may or may not be RTE classified as class 3 or 4?

Low-risk foods are unlikely to contain pathogenic micro-organisms and will not normally support their growth due to inherent food characteristics. Therefore, low-risk foods are unlikely to be associated with a foodborne illness outbreak. For example, grains, cereals, carbonated beverages, jams, dried fruits, packaged pasteurised milk, biscuits and cupcakes are considered low-risk due to the cooking process and/or low aw which does not support the growth of pathogens. Pre-packaged low-risk food is a class 4 activity and most unpackaged low-risk foods are class 3 (there are exceptions).

Despite baked goods containing potentially hazardous food in its production (eggs), the process of preparation reduces the level of potential pathogens. This generally applies to breads, cakes, and other baked products. The baked food goes through a kill-step which reduces the pathogens load and the low aw prevents the growth of pathogens. For this reason, baked goods are classified as class 3.

If a cake has a fruit garnish, would this be considered a class 3 activity?

No, a cake with a fruit garnish will normally require temperature control and therefore does not meet the definition for sweet and savory food that can be kept out of temperature control for longer than 24 hours. Fruits normally have a high aw that will support the growth of pathogens and for this reason, if kept out of temperature control for a period of time, will need to be disposed of.

If a cake (including a cupcake), has icing containing egg white or any other potentially hazardous ingredient, is it class 3?

Icing in almost all cases will be considered a low-risk ingredient added to a cake/cupcake, as it normally contains a large amount of sugar and in some cases an acid such as lemon juice. Sugar, and lemon juice alters the food characteristics to a level that will not support the growth of pathogens. This is achieved by sugar lowing the aw and lemon juice lowering the pH. In some cases, salt is also added, which also impacts on the aw of the icing. For this reason, the cake does not require temperature control for food safety.

Are raw sweet and savory foods that contain potentially hazardous ingredients captured within the low-risk class 3 classification?

No, the definition relates to handling of low-risk foods. If these foods contain potentially hazardous food and the premises will remain a class 2 premises. These foods may support the growth of food poisoning pathogens and will require temperature control for food safety.

Why are pizza rolls or spinach and cheese rolls or other similar baked products not included within the definition of class 3?

Pizza rolls and spinach and cheese rolls are savory foods which have been baked, however these foods are unlikely to be kept out of temperature control for longer than 24 hours. Shelf-life testing of these products normally indicates that they can be stored out of temperature control for a period of less than 24 hours and then disposed of.

Reviewed 06 September 2023


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Food Safety Unit

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