Food safety at early learning services

All early learning services must make sure the food they serve children is safe and suitable to eat. Some services will have additional obligations under the Food Act 2014(external link) (the Food Act) and the Food Regulations 2015(external link) (the Food Regulations).

The Food Act applies to anyone who provides food as part of their business. It requires people to provide food that is safe and suitable to eat.

What it means for early learning services

Most services that provide meals and food to children will need to operate under National Programme 2(external link)

Working with a national programme is the way that lower-risk food businesses operate under the Food Act. There are 3 levels of national programmes, which are based on the food safety risk of the activities a business does. All national programmes require:

  • record keeping to show that you’re selling safe food
  • registration of business details with your local council
  • one or more visits from a verifier recognised by MPI.

Not all services need to register. Only services that cook meals or prepare food – like sandwiches or salads – need to register under national programme 2.
You don't need to register if:

  • all the food is brought in by children from home (for example in lunch boxes)
  • you only serve fruit or pre-packaged snacks that don't need to be kept cold (like muffins or crackers)
  • you prepare food with the children only as part of the curriculum
  • you run a home-based service
  • you don't charge fees (or otherwise charge for the food).

To find out if the type of food provision at your service is subject to National Programme 2, you can use the MPI Where do I fit tool(external link).

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has a web page for early learning service providers(external link), which lets you check if you need to register and how to go about it. It has links to all the food safety information you need to follow the rules – including guidance prepared especially for centres.

What you need to do if you are on National Programme 2

  • Make food safe. Meet food safety requirements by, for example, keeping hands and kitchen surfaces clean, keeping cooked and raw food separate, and cooking and storing food at the right temperature.
  • Register with your local Council. If you run more than one centre – and they are in different council areas – you can choose to register with MPI.
  • Arrange for a verifier to visit your centre to check you're making safe food. You don't need to be verified straight away.  You should choose a verifier before you register and list them on your application form. If you can’t find a suitable verifier straight away, you can register without one for now.
  • Get checked.  Your verifier will visit to make sure you're set up to make safe and suitable food. They'll also look through the food records that you are required to maintain.

For more information on the steps to register, go to MPI’s web page for ECE services(external link).

MPI have developed a guidance for the early learning sector [PDF, 250KB](external link) so you are prepared for your verification visit.

What you need to do if you are exempt

If you don't need to register, there's nothing else you have to do except make sure any food you serve is safe to eat. Get food safety tips(external link).

When you need to do it

  • New centres must be verified within a month of opening. 
  • Existing centres and kōhanga reo should have now applied for registration and will have up to 12 months from registering to get verified.
  • You'll be verified once every 3 years, if there are no food safety issues.

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