IFN 01-17 - Date marking and other labelling requirements for imported food

Issued: 11 January 2017

Purpose

The purpose of this notice is to provide detail to importers about some of the labelling noncompliances that are regularly identified by the department regarding imported food.

What is the concern?

The department conducts a label assessment on all food products that are referred for inspection under the Imported Food Inspection Scheme (IFIS). Of all the noncompliance detected under the IFIS, food product labelling amounts to over 75 per cent of all failures. For the period from January to June 2016, there were 17,464 labelling assessments conducted under the IFIS, with 366 labelling related noncompliances detected.

The most commonly detected labelling noncompliances in the period above were;

  • absent, incomplete or incorrect nutritional information details (25.3%)
  • absent or incomplete importer details (24.7%)
  • absent or incomplete ingredients list (14.5%) and
  • country of origin labelling noncompliance (11.1%).

Requirements in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code

Importers are responsible for ensuring the labelling on the food products that they import is compliant with the requirements of the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (the Code). Importers are encouraged to verify the compliance of their food products prior to booking an inspection of their food products.

Date marking

The Code includes requirements for the date marking of food. Date marking provides consumers with a guide on how long food can be kept before it begins to deteriorate or may become unsafe to eat. The Code specifies in Standard 1.2.5 that food, which requires date marking, must either be marked with the words ‘Use-By’ or ‘Best-Before’, to represent the effective storage life of the food. The department has observed imported food products that are labelled with other expressions, including ‘expiry date’ or ‘BBE’. The department’s view is that these other expressions are not compliant with the standard and therefore do not comply with the Imported Food Control Act 1992.

Standard 1.2.5 specifies that if food products are required to have date marking, then the format of the date must be expressed so that it is apparent which number or code is the day, month or the year. The order of the day (if required), the month and the year in the date mark must be such that the reader can interpret which number or code is the day, the month and the year.

What importers need to do

Importers should take all reasonable steps to ensure that labels on the food products that they import are compliant with the requirements in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (the Code).

Importers should contact all suppliers, or put systems in place, to ensure that the labelling on their food products comply with the Code prior to importing food products, or ensure that labelling is compliant prior to inspection. The Imported Food Control Act 1992 provides for the labelling of food products to be amended after importation and before inspection by the department.

Further information about labelling

For more information please refer to the following links to the FSANZ website with detail on labelling requirements for date marking of food.

Imported Food Control Act offences

The Imported Food Control Act 1992 (the Act) places responsibilities on importers to ensure the food they import complies with Australian food standards as listed within the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. The Act provides for periods of imprisonment where a person knowingly imports food that does not comply (Sections 8 and 8A).

The department also works with the community and other regulatory agencies to assess information received about alleged breaches of the imported food and biosecurity legislation requirements. State, territory and local government food regulatory agencies may also take action in relation to alleged breaches of labelling requirements.

The public are encouraged to report information about suspected breaches of Australian biosecurity, meat or food inspection laws through its free call Redline service on the phone number; 1800 803 006.

The department monitors imported food at the border for compliance with Australia's standards. The rate of inspection depends on the type of food and may include both labelling assessment and analytical testing.

For detail about the testing applied to risk food, visit the department's website.

For detail about the testing applied to surveillance food.

Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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