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Food Packaging Regulations in Australia and New Zealand
Apr 14, 2018

Australia and New Zealand regulate food contact substances through a single bi-national agency – Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) – under the joint Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (the Code).  The Code, first published in 2000 and revised March 1, 2016,[1] contains four chapters:  1) Introduction and standards that apply to all foods; 2) Food standards; 3) Food safety standards; and 4) Primary production standards.  Chapters 3 and 4 apply only in Australia.

Although FSANZ develops and updates the Code, it is enforced in Australia by state and territory authorities; in New Zealand, by the Ministry for Primary Industries and public health units.  For imported food, Australia’s Department of Agriculture and Water Resources enforces the Code’s provisions.  Given the potential for checkered implementation, consistency in the Code’s enforcement is ensured by the Implementation Subcommittee for Food Regulation (ISFR).[2]

As discussed below, FSANZ has initiated a review of its food packaging oversight to determine whether the existing regulatory framework for managing risk from the migration of chemicals from packaging to food is adequate. This effort remains ongoing.

Food Contact Substances under the Code

The degree of regulation of food contact substances in Australia and New Zealand is tied to the intended function of the substance that contacts food.  The Code distinguishes between “food additive,” “processing aid,” and “package”: 

  • Food additives are defined as substances added to food to perform one or more technological functions in the finished food.  (See Standard 1.1.2-11.)

  • Processing aids include substances used to perform a technical purpose during food processing, but not in the finished food.  (See Standard 1.1.2-13.)  

  • A package is “any container or wrapper in or by which food for sale is wholly or partly encased, covered, enclosed, contained or packaged,” including primary and secondary packaging. The definition of “package” excludes bulk cargo containers, pallet overwrap, crates and packages that do not obscure food labels, transportation vehicles, hampers (e.g., decorative basket or box), containers and wrappers for food served in prisons, hospitals, and medical institutions, and food containers that serve a medical purpose that are used in institutional settings.  (See Standard 1.1.2.) 

Food additives, which are not further discussed herein, are subject to more stringent controls and must be approved prior to use.  As discussed in further detail below, under the Code, processing aids also must be the subject of premarket clearance for their intended use in food.  For packages, however, the Code is general in nature, and does not specify permitted materials that may be used in packaging food.  Rather, under the Code, food manufacturers and retailers must ensure that their (packaged) products are safe, and that they comply with all “relevant” legislation.

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