What happens if my food fails inspection?

​​​​​Imported Food Inspection Scheme

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.

Imported food inspection

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 standards in the Code.

Find out more about the IFIS.

Food imported into Australia is classified into two inspection categories:

  • risk food
  • surveillance food

See what tests apply to risk food and surveillance food.

Owners of imported food that fail inspection have the following options available:

  • bring the food into compliance
  • downgrade the food (if applicable)
  • export the food
  • destroy the food.

It is the responsibility of the importer to ensure that imported food is safe and compliant with Australia’s food standards. It is an offence under the Act to import food that poses a risk to human health and does not meet Australia’s food standards.

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What happens if my risk food fails inspection?

Risk food consignments that fail inspection return to 100 per cent testing for future consignments of that product (same producer, country of origin and tariff code) until a history of compliance is re-established for that food. Individual importer compliance is not taken into account.

Find out how risk food is tested, including how a compliance history is established.

What happens if my surveillance food fails inspection?

When a surveillance food is found not to comply with Australian standards, the department can apply a holding order. A holding order is a legal mechanism under the Act that ensures future comparable consignments (same product, producer, and country of origin) of a failed food are referred to the department to ensure the reason that the food failed has been rectified.

Food subject to a holding order will be inspected at a rate of 100 per cent to monitor future consignments to confirm action has been taken by the manufacturer or importer to ensure the food now complies with Australian standards.

Holding orders remain in force until the food demonstrates continued compliance with Australian standards. This is usually when five consecutive consignments comply with Australian Standards.

Find out how surveillance food is tested.

How do I know if a food is subject to a holding order?

The Food Control Certificate issued by the department prior to inspection will advise importers if any food in the consignment is subject to a holding order. Food subject to a holding order will not be granted a release until the food has passed inspection or inspection and analysis.

The department will advise the original importer that a food has failed, and that the food will become subject to a holding order. Details of failing food are published monthly on the department’s website.

Will food on a holding order be allowed into Australia and what happens if the food fails?

The application of a holding order to a consignment of food does not mean that the food will not be allowed onto the Australian market the next time it is imported.

If the importer or owner has arranged for the initial problem to be corrected and the food passes inspection, the food can be released for distribution, and this will count as a pass against the holding order. Some labelling deficiencies may be corrected at the time of importation and prior to inspection by authorised officers.

How is a holding order revoked?

A holding order can be revoked if:

  • five consecutive consignments pass inspection or inspection and analysis, or
  • standards or testing requirements change and the holding order is no longer appropriate, or
  • information is provided to the Secretary of the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment that demonstrates that the food complies with the Food Standards Code.

Once the holding order is revoked the referral rate for the food subject to the holding order is returned to the surveillance rate of inspection.

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Last reviewed: 21 August 2020
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