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Caterers

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Caterers selling food direct to consumers

Caterers who prepare food that will be served direct to the end user need to meet the same food safety requirements as other retail food businesses, as detailed below. For example, caterers that prepare food for a function or event such as a private wedding or work lunch, are retail businesses as they are supplying a customer directly.

Caterers selling food to another business to on-sell

Caterers who prepare food and distribute to other sites to on-sell fall under the NSW Food Authority's Manufacturing and Wholesalers Inspection Program (MWIP), and need to meet the requirements of a manufacturing and wholesaling business. For example, caterers that prepare food and supply a hotel, café or airline are manufacturing/wholesaling businesses as they are not supplying the end customer directly.

If you are unsure what classification your business is, contact the NSW Food Authority.

Changes for caterers

Recent changes to the Food Standards Code introduced new food safety requirements for businesses that handle and serve unpackaged, potentially hazardous, ready-to-eat food. The requirements are outlined in each of the sections below.

See also: 

Notification

When a food business sells direct to the final customer, local councils will regulate the business. The business needs to notify the local council of their business and food activity details. Notification is satisfied via applications to the local council for services, permits and approvals. 

When a food business does not retail direct to the customer (for example they sell to another party to on-sell), they need to notify the NSW Food Authority of their business and food activity details. 

If any of your details change you need to update them by contacting the NSW Food Authority at food.licensing@dpi.nsw.gov.au or on 1300 552 406.

Notification records are private for each food business, so if you purchase an existing business you need to notify the business again with your details.

Food Safety Supervisors

Caterers must appoint a Food Safety Supervisor to their business if food they prepare and serve is:

  • ready-to-eat
  • potentially hazardous (needs temperature control), and
  • NOT sold and served in the supplier's original package.

The aim of the Food Safety Supervisor is to prevent consumers becoming ill from food poisoning as a result of incorrect handling and preparation of food.  

See Food Safety Supervisors for information on training and requirements. 

Food handler skills

The owners of food businesses are responsible for making sure that all people who handle food or food contact surfaces in their business, and the people who supervise this work, have the skills and knowledge they need to handle food safely.

Businesses serving unpackaged, potentially hazardous, ready-to-eat food, directly to consumers, must ensure their food handlers have appropriate skills and knowledge in food safety and hygiene under Standard 3.2.2A of the Code.  This is different to the Food Safety Supervisor requirement.

Businesses can choose how food handlers are trained. They may use or recognise free online food safety training programs, past experience, internal training tailored to suit their own procedures, or courses from vocational training providers.  

Additional training is not needed if food handlers can already demonstrate adequate skills and knowledge for their duties. 

To satisfy the food standards, staff only need appropriate skills and knowledge for the tasks they perform.

Showing food is safe

Businesses that undertake higher risk food handling need to be able to demonstrate safe food practices under Standard 3.2.2A of the Code. This requirement ensures the business is actively monitoring and managing key risks related to food temperature control, food processing, and cleaning and sanitising, which are critical for food safety.  

It applies to caterers that process potentially hazardous food into a food that is ready-to-eat and potentially hazardous, and serve it to consumers. “Process” is defined as chopping, cooking, drying, fermenting, heating, thawing and/or washing.

Specific risks relating to potentially hazardous food must be controlled, including for:  

  • food receipt  
  • storage  
  • display  
  • transport  
  • pathogen reduction (cooking)  
  • minimising time during food processing  
  • cooling food  
  • reheating food  
  • cleaning and sanitising.  

Businesses can meet this requirement by:

  • demonstrating safe food practices, and/or
  • keeping records. 

For more information, including templates for recording keeping, see Showing food is safe.

See also Standard 3.2.2A – Frequently asked questions.

Food safety controls

Caterers need to take special care in the preparation and handling of food as well as transport and storage.

A number of food poisoning outbreaks have been due to catering operations serving food that was not cooked or stored properly before consumption.

Other potential problems include inadequate handling of food that’s been prepared at one site and transported and served at another site, and facilities that are ill-equipped or unsuitable for the volume of food being prepared.

Preventing food poisoning

Some common mistakes that can cause food poisoning include:

  • under-cooking that does not kill bacteria in raw foods such as meat and poultry
  • slow reheating and slow cooking under low heat that provides the ideal temperature (20°C - 50°C) for bacteria to grow
  • improper cooling that allows food to stay for extended periods of time at the ideal temperature for bacteria to grow
  • incorrect transportation and storage temperatures that can allow the growth of bacteria
  • cooking foods too far in advance, increasing the likelihood of food becoming contaminated with bacteria
  • poor personal hygiene from food handlers can lead to contamination of food through dirty hands and coughing.

Thaw completely

Thaw frozen foods completely before cooking. This is especially important with large cuts of meat or poultry, which won’t cook all the way through if they’re not fully thawed.

Thaw frozen food in a refrigerator or a microwave oven before cooking.

Cook food properly

Food must be cooked at a high enough temperature to destroy bacteria.

The key is to not cook more food than you can effectively handle.

Use a calibrated probe thermometer to ensure correct cooking temperatures are reached.

Disinfect the probe before and after use and record all final cooking temperatures.

Cook food to the required internal temperature. This is particularly important for:

  • meat - 71°C
  • poultry - 74°C
  • seafood - 65°C

Once cooked, meat and poultry should be kept above 60°C or cooled to below 5°C as quickly as possible.

For the final cooking stage partially cooked meat must reach the required internal temperature as indicated before being served.

Reheat other cooked food to these temperatures before placing it in a hot holding device such as a bain marie.

Protect food

  • Protect food that is being stored or displayed (ie enclose or cover it) to prevent contamination by dust, insects or other sources. This is especially important for outdoor events, especially during summer when flies can be a problem. Also protect utensils from contamination.
  • Avoid cross contamination
  • Handle raw food separately from ready-to-eat food to avoid cross contamination.
  • Where possible use separate equipment and utensils (knives, tongs, cutting boards etc) for raw and ready-to-eat food, or clean and sanitise thoroughly between uses.
  • Sanitise utensils with a chemical sanitiser. Use a separate container for rinsing.

Health and hygiene

Food businesses are expected to ensure that food handlers and anyone else on the premises do not contaminate food. Basic personal hygiene practices include:

  • thoroughly washing and drying hands (or changing into new disposable gloves) before handling food, and after visiting the toilet, blowing your nose or coughing, smoking, handling raw food and waste
  • wearing clean outer clothing when handling food
  • tying back long hair or wearing a cap
  • covering cuts, sores or skin breaks with clean waterproof dressings
  • avoiding coughing or sneezing over food
  • not handling food if you have any skin, nose, throat or bowel infections.

Even though it is not a legal requirement to wear gloves, the Food Authority does not recommend using bare hands to handle ready-to-eat food. It is better to use tongs, other utensils or disposable gloves.

Disposable gloves need to be changed regularly and will only remain clean if you don’t touch anything that might be contaminated.

See also:

Storage  

Ensure there is adequate hot/cold storage and display unit capacity to store food at the correct temperature (at 5°C or below for cold food, and 60°C or above for hot food).

Use portion sizes that enable food to cool or heat quickly (eg. by using shallow dishes instead of large pots).

When delivering food to a party or group function, maintain all food at the correct storage temperature. Transport vehicles should be designed and constructed in accordance with NSW legislation.

Premises construction

Ensure there is adequate hot/cold storage and display unit capacity to store food at the correct temperature (not over 5°C for cold food, and above 60°C for hot food).

Use portion sizes that enable food to cool or heat quickly (eg. by using shallow dishes instead of large pots).

When delivering food to a party or group function, maintain all food at the correct storage temperature. Transport vehicles should be designed and constructed in accordance with NSW legislation. 

Legislation and standards

Caterers need to meet the same food safety requirements as other retail food businesses.

This includes:

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