Imported Food Inspection Scheme

​Changes to the Imported Food Control Act 1992

The Australian Government is changing the way imported foods is monitored and inspected for compliance with food safety regulations. These changes do not alter the requirement for all imports of food to comply with the Biosecurity Act 2015.

Read more about changes to the Imported F​ood Control Act 1992.

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Imported Food Inspection Scheme

Imported food is inspected by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment through an inspection program known as the Imported Food Inspection Scheme (IFIS). We inspect imported food to check it meets Australian requirements for public health and safety and is compliant with Australia’s food standards. The department takes a risk-based approach to regulating imported food and works closely with other authorities to monitor food entering Australia.  

Imported food legislation

All food imported into Australia must comply with the requirements of the Imported Food Control Act 1992 (the Act). The applicable standards under the Act are those in the Australia and New Zealand Food Standards Code (the Code). The Code applies to all food for sale including those manufactured in Australia. All food imported into Australia must also comply with the Country of Origin Food Labelling Information Standard 2016.

Find out more about imported food legislation and Country of Origin labelling requirements.

Imported food inspection

When a consignment of imported food has been referred for inspection, the inspection will involve a visual and label assessment and may also include sampling the food for the application of analytical tests.

Under the IFIS, the Minister classifies food as either risk food or surveillance food. Risk food is food that has been assessed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) as posing a medium to high risk to public health, thereby requiring stricter border controls. Surveillance food is considered to pose a low risk to human health and safety.

See what tests apply to risk food and surveillance food.

FSANZ is an Australian Government statutory authority that develops food standards for Australia and New Zealand. FSANZ also provides risk assessment advice to the department on imported food that poses a medium to high risk to public health and safety.

See FSANZ advice on imported food.

There are many standards in the Code and it is not practicable to inspect against all standards, particularly for low- risk food. The department inspects imported food against a selection of standards but not all standards.

Tests that apply may change from year to year to ensure compliance against different standards over time. Changes to existing tests or the introduction of new tests may also occur if the department receives new or updated risk advice from FSANZ.

We may also increase inspection rates, for risk and surveillance food, in response to international food safety incidents or post border domestic food safety incidents.

Food Import Compliance Agreements

Food imported by holders of a Food Import Compliance Agreement is not required to be inspected under the IFIS. This is because the holders of these agreements have documented food safety management systems in place to manage the safety of the food they import. These businesses are regularly audited by the department.

Risk food

FSANZ provides the department with advice on imported food that poses a medium to high risk to public health. Food that poses a medium to high risk is classified as ‘risk food’ under the IFIS.

How is risk food tested?

Risk food is referred to the IFIS by the Department of Home Affairs’ Integrated Cargo System (ICS). Risk food is initially inspected and tested at a rate of 100 per cent of consignments. Once 5 consignments have passed consecutively, the inspection rate may be reduced to 25 per cent; and after a further 20 consecutive passes, the inspection rate may be reduced to 5 per cent.

A compliance history is developed for a risk food based upon a specific combination of producer, country of origin, and tariff code. Individual importer compliance is not taken into account.

Risk food is tested against a published list of potential hazards, including microorganisms and contaminants. Risk food referred to the IFIS for testing will also be subject to a visual and labelling inspection to assess compliance with the standards in the Code.

Risk food is subject to a ‘Test and Hold’ direction and must be held and not distributed for sale until test results are assessed and the food is released by the department.

See what tests apply to risk food.

Surveillance food

All other food is considered to pose a low risk to human health which is classified as 'surveillance food'.

How is surveillance food tested?

Surveillance food is referred to the IFIS randomly using electronic profiles in the ICS. Information such as the importer, producer or the country of origin of the food does not affect the random selection and referral of surveillance food.

Five per cent of surveillance food is referred for inspection and assessed for compliance with the standards in the Code. Where no analytical tests apply, surveillance food will be referred for a visual and labelling inspection.

Samples of surveillance food may be analysed for pesticides and antibiotics above accepted levels, microbiological contaminants, natural toxicants, metal contaminants and food additives.

As surveillance food is considered to be low risk, it can be distributed for sale following inspection and before test results are received. However, if a test result provides evidence that a food may pose a risk to public health, it may need to be recalled. 

Importers who regularly import similar consignments of surveillance food (for example: regular volumes of food in the same tariff group) have an increased chance of these consignments being randomly referred.

See what tests apply to surveillance food.

What happens if my food fails inspection?

Find out what happens if your food fails inspection.

Last reviewed: 4 February 2020
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