Information for consumers

​​​​​​​Imported food frequently asked questions

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How can I tell if food has been imported?

All packaged food and some unpackaged food must have a statement on the label, or a sign near the food, that shows the food’s country of origin. Displaying the country of origin is compulsory because it helps the department to trace food to its origin and helps consumers to make informed decisions about the food they consume.

More information on Country of Origin labelling of food is available on the Food Standards Australia New Zealand website.

Are any foods banned from being imported into Australia?

There are biosecurity restrictions on food such as meat, fruit, eggs, vegetables and dairy products from certain countries. More information on restricted food can be found by searching the Biosecurity Import Condi​tions system (BICON).

Food that does not meet biosecu​rity requirements will not be allowed into Australia.

The following webpages provide more information on personal food importation:

Who can I talk to about imported food that is for sale?

Australian state and territory authorities monitor food for retail sale, including imported food, for compliance with the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (the Code). If food products are being offered for retail sale that do not comply with the Code, the relevant state or territory authority may take action.

If you know of any non–compliant products in the marketplace, contact the relevant state or territory authority. Provide information on the specific food (including brand name), where the food is available for sale and details about why it may not meet Australian food standards.

Food enforcement contacts are available on the Food Standards Australia New Zealand website.

Who is responsible for food safety in Australia?

All three tiers of government play an important role in the Australian food regulatory system to protect public health and safety.

Further information on the role of Australian food regulation agencies can be found on the webpage Who is resposnible for food safety in Australia?

What are the Australian Food Standards and who sets them?

Australian food standards have been developed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand to provide effective and nationally uniform food standards to assist Australian and state and territory government agencies to protect public health and safety.

In Australia, the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code is a legislative instrument under the Legislative Instruments Act 2003 and the standards within it have the force of law. It is a criminal offence in Australia to supply food that does not comply with the relevant food standards.

Who makes sure that imported food meets Australian food standards?

Under the Imported Food Control Act 1992, importers are responsible for ensuring that the food they import meets Australian standards and does not pose a risk to public health and safety.

More information is about Importing food to Australia.

What does the department ​do to verify that importers import safe, compliant food?

The department administers the Imported Food Inspection Scheme to verify that importers source and import food that is safe and complies with the food standards; including those standards prescribed in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (the Code). When a consignment of food is referred for inspection, the consignment is inspected for label and composition compliance with the Code and may also be sampled for analytical testing.

More information on the types of tests applied to imported food under the scheme is available on Tests applied to risk foods and Tests applied to surveillance foods.

What types of food does the department inspect?

The department inspects a diverse range of food under the Imported Food Inspection Scheme. Food subject to other legislation and not subject to the scheme include:

  • most food from New Zealand
  • food imported for private consumption
  • food imported as a trade sample for testing and not for human consumption
  • food that is part of ship or aircraft stores.

What does the department look for when inspecting imported food?

Officers conduct visual, label, composition and, where applicable, analytical inspection of imported food under the Imported Food Inspection Scheme.

Analytical testing involves an officer taking samples of the food for analysis by a department approved laboratory. This nominated laboratory will undertake analytical testing specific to that food. This may include a pesticide screen, a contaminant screen and microbial tests.

The visual inspection involves ensuring the suitability of the product. For example, that a jar labelled ‘olives’ actually contains olives and checking to ensure that the food or its packaging is not unreasonably damaged.

Label inspections check that food labels meet Australian food standards and includes checking the label is in English, describes the food, has an ingredients list and a nutrition information panel, states the country of origin and importer details.

The composition assessment involves checking the ingredients to ensure that any additives, colours and vitamins in the food comply with Australian food standards.

More information on the types of tests applied to imported food under the scheme is available on Tests applied to risk foods and Tests applied to surveillance foods.

Does the department only test five per cent of imported food?

No—the department inspects more than five per cent of imported food. The rate of inspection of food is based on the risk the specific imported food poses to public health and safety.

More information on imported food inspection rates is available on the Imported Food Inspection Scheme webpage.

Why is most food from New Zealand not inspected?

Most risk food and all surveillance food from New Zealand are not inspected due to the Trans–Tasman Mutual Recognition Act 1997. Both countries share most food standards and have very similar imported food control systems.

More information about Importing food from New Zealand.

What happens if an imported food does not pass inspection?

Firstly, if an imported food does not meet biosecurity requirements it will not be allowed into the country and will be treated or re–exported.

When an imported food fails inspection under the Imported Food Inspection Scheme, further action is taken with the failing food such as export, destruction or a food recall. Subsequent consignments of the same food will then be inspected at the rate of 100 per cent of consignments until a history of compliance has been demonstrated.

For further information please read, What happens if my food fails inspection?.

What is a Maximum Residue Limit (MRL) and are these safety levels?

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) determine the likely level of chemical residues remaining at the time of harvest or slaughter.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) works closely with the APVMA in these risk assessments. The dietary exposure assessment is generally conducted by the APVMA and FSANZ reviews the assessment. Once the risk assessment is complete, the recommended MRLs are inserted into the Australian New Zealand Food Standards Code (the Code). The APVMA also has the legislative authority to vary certain MRLs in Schedule 1 of Standard 1.4.2 of the Code. FSANZ can also continue to amend the FSANZ MRL standard as required.

 

An example would be in response to a request to harmonize with a codex or trading partner. Residues may legitimately occur due to differing use patterns and where there are no public health and safety concerns associated with the presence of these residues. MRLs are set to reflect the legal use of a chemical and are not health standards. However, in setting an MRL, an estimation of daily intake of the chemical during a lifetime is made to limit consumer exposure to chemical residues in their diet that may be harmful.

More detailed information on MRLs is available on the FSANZ website.

Why is Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) updating its advice on risk foods?

The scientific assessments underpinning the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources's classification of imported food are routinely reviewed. This ensures that the department’s list of risk foods is up-to-date.

Some of FSANZ’s previous advice on risk foods has changed. This is because different hazards and more recent scientific data and compliance information have been considered.

In total, 27 foods will be reviewed, with the work split into stages. At the end of each stage, FSANZ will publish the updated advice on their website as imported food risk statements to help the general public understand why the department has adopted specific actions on specific imported foods. This work is expected to be finished by the end of 2015.

Will existing biosecurity requirements and protocols for imported food change because of Food Standards Australia New Zealand's updated advice on risk foods?

No—the updated imported food risk statements do not change the current biosecurity requirements and protocols for imported food.

Where can I find out more about Food Standards Australia New Zealand's (FSANZ) updated advice on risk foods?

More information about FSANZ’s updated advice on risk foods can be found on FSANZ advice on imported food.

Where can I find out more about how the department is responding to Food Standards Australia New Zealand's (FSANZ) updated advice on risk foods?

More information on how the department is responding to FSANZ’s updated advice on risk foods can be found on Tests applied to risk foods. These pages provide information on the specific risk foods, including requirements the food must meet to comply with Australian food standards.

Last reviewed:
02 Jun 2016