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Dicing with danger

29/10/2013 - 10:26 am by: Ellen Ann Durey

Scores on doors, rather than name and shame, can positively reinforce food handling practices.


When Noma was very publicly named and shamed by the media for allegedly infecting 63diners with food poisoning earlier in the year, it sent shock waves through the industry.

Why? Well, not only was the Copenhagen-based restaurant considered to be the world’s best at the time – the last place you’d expect to spread a food-born illness – but also such a scandal is every chef’s nightmare; a potential door closer for a restaurant, if not a career.

The problem is that many chefs are dicing with this danger daily.

An outbreak of salmonella hospitalised around 100 people who had dined at a restaurant in Canberra in May. Also that month, another 60 diners contracted gastroenteritis after dining at a separate restaurant in the city.

According to the NSW Food Authority, the most common food safety breaches under the Food Act 2003 are cleaning and sanitation (35 per cent), temperature control (13 per cent), pest control (13 per cent), hand washing offences (13 per cent), and protection from contamination (11 per cent).

The agency claims the number of businesses appearing on its Name and Shame register, which publicly names businesses that fail to meet food safety standards, has almost halved in three years – from 1309 in 2009-10, to 785 in 2011-12.

But reward, rather than shame, would arguably be a more positive approach.

A “scores on doors” star-rating system was implemented by Brisbane City and Logan City in Queensland in 2010, and has been adopted by 26 out of over 150 councils in NSW since 2011.

Participating food outlets are awarded a star rating in food safety compliance. It’s the reverse of naming and shaming because operators are rewarded for doing the right thing.
Food safety specialist Gavin Buckett, founder of consultancy The Gourmet Guardian, believes it is a much better approach.

“The businesses that are doing very well get to promote the fact that they have a five-star rating, so there is an incentive, as opposed to getting whacked with the spoon in terms of being named and shamed on the website,” Buckett says.

“We’ve have clients who have received four stars and have missed out by one mark and they’ve been furious, to say the least, and they’ve actually taken positive action to rectify their problems and fix it.”

Participation is the scheme is voluntary. The idea is that businesses will be compelled to sign up because if they don’t, customers will question what they have to hide.

Buckett would like to see the scheme rolled out nationwide and for it to be mandatory. He’d also like to see minimum education and training requirements introduced for all food businesses.

“At the moment there is no minimum standard,” he says. “Some states have a requirement for a food safety supervisor ... but that’s only one person per business, and it does not apply to all businesses. Anyone else can work in the food industry and not have undergone any formal training whatsoever.”

Restaurant and Catering Australia chief executive John Hart would also like to see compulsory training for all food handlers.

“I think the incidences of food born illnesses we’ve seen lately, particularly the ones in the ACT where they’ve both involved supply of product to those businesses, would have been prevented if there had been a greater level of training for food handlers,” Hart says.

While RCA would like to see the scores on doors system become mandatory, Hart says there first needs to be a consistent approach nationwide.

“That’s certainly not the case at present and we are in a situation where ... there’s not enough penetration of it to provide guidance across the board, so it either needs to be further developed and further implemented, or dropped,” Hart says.

“We’d certainly not like to see it dropped because we think it is a much more positive regulatory option then the name and shame [register], but it’s not getting the traction it needs.”

A spokesperson for NSW Food Authority said a working group would be established to ensure its Scores on Doors initiative progressed.  •


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