Food health & safety 

I’m planning a hangi. What do I need to know?

The first thing you need to do is check with your local authority whether you will need a permit to light the cooking fire. Regulations vary depending on the local authority. If you plan to sell hangi food you may also need a permit for the food stall, and will have to follow the Food Hygiene Regulations.

You will need to have the right equipment and think about correct placement of the hangi pit (for example, to avoid drains, septic tanks or dry foliage). Make sure you work hygienically, purchase safe, approved meat, and store the meat safely to stop any bugs from growing on it and your guests from getting sick.

Before you go ahead, it’s a good idea to read the hangi guide (PDF) produced by the Ministry for Primary Industries which will tell you everything you need to know about planning and executing a hangi safely. 

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We want to sell food as a fundraiser, what do we need to do?

If you are planning to make and sell food, you need to make sure that your food is safe. This means following the Food Hygiene Regulations. You can check what your food safety responsibilities are when selling food to fundraise, on the Ministry for Primary Industries' online tool.

The Environmental Health Officer at your local Council may have rules about when and where food can be sold for fundraisers, so you should check with them. They will be able to tell you if there are any specific rules in your area, and whether you need a permit.

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I think the food I ate recently at a restaurant has made me ill. What can I do to get it checked out?

If you suspect that you got food poisoning as a result of a meal you had at the restaurant you should report it to the health protection officer at your local public health unit. They can investigate whether your restaurant meal is the cause of your illness and work with the restaurant to improve their food safety processes if necessary.

If you want to complain about the state of a restaurant's premises because you are concerned it is too dirty or unhygienic (e.g. you've seen mouse droppings on the floor) then contact your local council’s environmental health officer

Your local CAB can help you work out what actions might be appropriate for you to take.

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What is the difference between a use-by date and a best-before date?

If a food product has a best-before date, this means that the quality of the food may begin to deteriorate on that date. Food that is past its best-before date can be sold and eaten as long as it has been stored according to the instructions on the label and is still fit for human consumption. 

A use-by date means food should not be eaten after that date. It is illegal to sell food with an expired use-by date.

It’s important to know that once you open the packaging, the shelf life of the food inside will be the same as if it were unpackaged.

For example the shelf life of your carton of juice might be several months as long as it remains unopened – but once it is opened you’ll have to keep it in the fridge and it might only be good to drink for a few days.

Consumer NZ has a table showing how long different types of foods are likely to last - after being opened - before becoming unsafe to eat or drink.

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The food I bought from a shop was past its use-by date. What are my rights?

A use-by date on a food product tells you that it is unsafe to eat that food after that date. It is illegal to sell food with an expired use-by date.

If the food was already past its use-by date when you bought it, you are entitled to a refund or replacement product from the shop. 

If you are concerned that a shop is selling food which is past its use-by date, you can report it to the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

Ministry for Primary Industries
Phone: 0800 00 83 33

You can also contact MPI to report:

  • that you have found a foreign object in food you bought
  • false information on food labels
  • sale of food that is not fit for human consumption

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If a food item has passed its best-before date, how much longer will it be safe to eat?

If the food is still unopened but has just passed best-before date, it should generally still be safe to eat. But how long you can keep it before it becomes unsafe to eat will depend on what type of food it is, how it is preserved and stored, and which expert you ask.

Frozen, dried and canned foods can be fine to eat months (and possibly years) after their best-by date has passed; but it wouldn’t be safe to keep your commercially made yoghurt for this long.

The general rule of thumb is, if it looks or smells a bit funny - compared to how this food product usually looks and smells - or if the can it’s in is bulging or leaking, it’s best to throw it in the bin.

If your immune system is low due to illness or medication or you are pregnant, you will want to be more careful still.

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Is it legal to sell genetically modified food in New Zealand?

It is lawful to sell processed food that contains genetically modified (GM) ingredients, as long as they have been approved by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) and the Ministry for Primary Industries and are appropriately labelled.

However GM fruit, vegetables and meat may not be sold in New Zealand.

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How do I check whether the food product I bought is subject to a recall?

A food product can be recalled by the manufacturer, in consultation with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), if: 

  • they discover a problem with it during their own quality control processes,
  • on the advice of an overseas authority, 
  • as a result of customer complaints (to the food seller or to MPI) or 
  • as a result of regular monitoring carried out by MPI.

If the manufacturer decides to issue a recall they will place recall notices in newspapers and/or other media.

You can also find out whether a particular product is subject to a recall by checking the Latest recalls list on the MPI website. It describes each recalled food product and tells you which batch or batches are affected, which retailers might have sold it, and why it is being recalled.

If you are concerned about a food product you have bought and it is not on the Latest Recalls list, you can contact MPI on 0800 0083 33 or by email.