Food Import Compliance Agreement Audit Regime
This regime applies to all audit activity conducted under a Food Import Compliance Agreement (FICA) with the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (the department).
Fees for FICA audits will be applied at the prescribed fee for service rates which are outlined in the department’s charging guidelines.
Pre-approval audit – an initial verification to determine if an importer’s documented food safety & compliance system is able to comply with the imported food legislation and FICA requirements. A pre-approval audit may also be conducted prior to revocation of suspension of a FICA to determine whether the suspension can be revoked.
Scheduled audit – an ongoing verification to determine if an importer is complying with the imported food legislation and the requirements of their FICA. These audits will be conducted in accordance with the FICA audit regime, as detailed below.
Probation audit – a specific verification to establish compliance under a FICA. A probation audit is applied under a FICA in the following circumstances:
- Approval of a new compliance agreement.
- In response to a failed scheduled audit.
- In response to critical noncompliance identified either at a previous audit or following information obtained from alternate sources.
All importers that enter into a FICA will receive two probation audits within 180 days after commencement of a FICA. Following the probation audit period, the frequency of scheduled audit is once per year, based on previous audit performance.
The probationary audit rate commences from the day of approval of a new FICA (or the day of reinstatement following a period of suspension). In the event of a failed audit, the probationary audit rate commences from the date of the failed audit.
In order to progress from the probationary audit rate to the low scheduled rate of once per year the importer must pass two consecutive probationary audits. If the importer fails any one of the probationary audits, the six monthly period immediately restarts and continues until the importer passes two consecutive probation audits within six months.
Importers operating under a FICA will progress to the low audit rate upon passing of two probation audits without waiting for the six month period to pass.
Audit regime for multiple warehouses
Only warehouses where imported food is first received and assessed by the importer need to be included under a FICA. When making a FICA application importers with multiple warehouses must nominate the location of each of these warehouses. Importers are required to maintain a FICA warehouse register that identifies all warehouses that receive imported food.
Audits will generally occur at the primary warehouse including the head office if at a separate location. Scheduled audits will not normally be conducted at other warehouses as the importer is responsible for ensuring compliance with FICA requirements at all warehouses. However, an audit may be required at a warehouse/s where the department receives evidence of a breakdown in the system at the warehouse.
The audit outcome is determined by the number and type of noncompliances with the FICA requirements, as detailed in the audit compliance matrix in Table 1 below.
There are three categories of noncompliance, as follows:
Critical – a noncompliance that results, or is likely to result, in the release/distribution of food that poses a risk to human health.
Major – a noncompliance that may result in the failure to identify food which is noncompliant with the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code or the distribution of food that is known to be noncompliant.
Minor – a noncompliance that is unlikely to result in the distribution of noncompliant food.
Detection of critical noncompliance will result in a failed audit, and consideration will be given to suspension or cancellation of the FICA.
Table 1 below provides the basis for determining the audit outcome of pass or fail, based on the number of minor or major nonconformities detected at audit.
Three or more major nonconformities will result in a failed audit and reintroduction of the probation audit rate for subsequent audits, until a compliant audit performance is re-established.
Seven or more minor nonconformities will result in a failed audit and reintroduction of the probation audit rate.
Advisory findings – are issues identified at a pre-approval audit that could improve the importer’s documented food management system. It is not mandatory for the importer to respond to these findings.
|Number of major noncompliances||Critical non-conformity|
|0||1||2||3 or more||1 or more|
|7 or more||Fail||Fail||Fail||Fail||Fail|
Close out of noncompliance
To progress the close out of noncompliance, an importer must put forward their proposed rectification and preventive actions along with relevant supporting evidence. Where the department considers that the actions are satisfactory the noncompliance will be closed out. Failure to correct noncompliance within the agreed timeframes will result in further verification activity, that may lead to suspension of the agreement.
Suspension or cancellation of a FICA
Where a critical noncompliance is issued or noncompliances have not been closed out within agreed timeframes, consideration will be given to suspension or cancellation of the FICA.
Where the department considers suspension or cancellation to be appropriate, written advice setting out the basis for suspension or cancellation will be provided to the importer.
Following suspension or cancellation of a FICA, consignments of imported food will revert to inspection and testing under the Imported Food Inspection Scheme.
Review of decision
All noncompliances and advisory findings will be provided to the importer in writing during the audit exit meeting. If the importer disagrees with the reported noncompliance, the importer may apply in writing for a review of the decision within 10 business days from the date of notification of the noncompliance.
Appeals are to be addressed to:
Imported Food section
Department of Agriculture and Water Resources
GPO Box 858
Canberra ACT 2601
Phone: 1800 900 090
Email: Imported Food Inquiries
The Australian Government acting through the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has exercised due care in the preparation and compilation of the information in this publication. Notwithstanding, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, its employees and advisers disclaim all liability, including liability for negligence, for any loss, damage, injury, expense or cost incurred by any person as a result of accessing, using or relying upon any of the information in this publication to the maximum extent permitted by law.