Part 2: The food import system

Monitoring importers of specified high-risk foods

In this Part, we describe:

Importers are responsible for the safety and suitability of food they import

Managing food safety risks requires a robust food control system. International best practice indicates that it should be science- and risk-based and cover all aspects of the food chain. A prevention-based approach, where safety is part of the entire process (from food production to consumption), is most effective for reducing the risk of foodborne illness or injury.2

The Food Act promotes a science- and risk-based approach to developing food safety standards and requirements. The Food Regulations 2015 and the Food notice: Requirements for registered food importers and imported food for sale (2023 Food Notice), which are issued under the Act, set out the safety requirements for importing food.3

Importers are responsible for the safety and suitability of all the food they import.4 Importers must meet food safety requirements, which include:

  • being registered with the Ministry;
  • ensuring that an assessment of the food is carried out before it arrives in the country – the assessment must confirm that, when it is sold, the food will be safe and suitable;
  • taking all reasonable steps to ensure that food is safely and suitably transported and stored;
  • keeping records about the food they import (including its safety and suitability and how it was handled, transported, and stored) for at least four years;
  • carrying out a simulated food recall every year; and
  • ensuring that the food complies with relevant New Zealand domestic food standards, relevant standards of the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code, and any applicable requirements for specified high-risk foods.

Figure 2 describes what importers must do to bring specified high-risk foods into New Zealand.

Figure 2
Importers' responsibilities when bringing specified high-risk foods into New Zealand

Chart showing what importers must do before they bring specified high-risk food into the country. This includes assessing and confirming safety and suitability of food for import by meeting the requirements for imported food in legislation and submitting documentation. The food safety officer then determines which border clearance requirements apply.

* This involves checking against New Zealand Standards – manufacturer, storage, transport, labelling – and ensuring that a food recall plan is in place.

The Ministry is responsible for monitoring that importers are meeting requirements

The Food Act states that, in relation to importing food, the Ministry is responsible for:

  • implementing, managing, and monitoring the food safety regime for imported food;
  • dealing with applications for registration by importers;
  • monitoring compliance with the applicable requirements of the Food Act;
  • contingency planning for incidents that could affect the safety and suitability of food; and
  • monitoring and implementing the enforcement system under the Food Act.

The Food Act also states that the costs of the Ministry in administering the Act (that are not provided for by the Crown) should be recovered from those who use or benefit from the functions, powers, and services provided. The methods of cost recovery include fees, charges, and levies.

Currently, a range of fee-based services are in place to cover the cost of certain activities, such as sampling and testing specified high-risk foods (see paragraph 2.26). However, there are no levies for carrying out other activities that benefit food businesses (such as importers) and support public health. This includes monitoring compliance or testing the effectiveness of food safety clearance requirements.

New Zealand and Australia have joint food standards and have committed to sharing, wherever possible, the same standards for food composition and labelling.

Food that is legally sold in Australia can also be legally sold in New Zealand (and vice versa). Food imported into either country can then be sent to the other without further requirements (however, there are exceptions for some specified high-risk foods).

New Zealand also recognises the equivalency of food safety control systems of certain jurisdictions with New Zealand's food control system. These jurisdictions include the United Kingdom, the European Union, and the United States of America. This means that the Ministry can, generally, have confidence in the safety and suitability of food that comes from these places, and confidence in the food from other countries that meet the requirements of those jurisdictions. However, requirements still apply to some specified high-risk foods (see paragraph 2.23).

New Zealand's international trade obligations also help determine the rules that can be put in place to regulate imported food. New Zealand is a member of the World Trade Organization and is a signatory to the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary measures. New Zealand also has several free trade agreements.

Under these agreements, New Zealand cannot impose requirements on imported food that unfairly favour locally produced food of the same type. This means that any requirement applied to imported food must be scientifically defensible and risk-based.

Specified high-risk foods are subject to more regulatory oversight

Foodborne illness or injury can be caused by food contaminated with harmful bacteria, viruses, foreign matter, or chemicals.

Specified high-risk foods are those categorised under the Food Act as "high regulatory interest" or "increased regulatory interest". Food in these categories have specific known hazards (chemical, physical, or biological) to consumers.

The difference between "high" and "increased" regulatory interest food is how much is known about the risk. Food classified as increased regulatory interest has potential risks to human health that are less well understood. Categorising a food as increased regulatory interest enables the Ministry to collect information to inform whether additional risk mitigation or management measures are required. Additional border clearance requirements can also be imposed on food in this category while the assessment takes place.

The Ministry decides whether food should be categorised as high regulatory interest or increased regulatory interest.

Figure 3 lists the specified high-risk foods in the 2023 Food Notice.

Figure 3
Specified high-risk foods

High regulatory interest food Increased regulatory interest food
Raw milk products Frozen berries (other than the examples below)
Fresh cheese, curd cheese, and soft cheese (pasteurised) Frozen berries that have been heat treated
Histamine susceptible fish and fish products Frozen berries that will be heat treated in New Zealand
Puffer fish
Chilled ready-to-eat smoked fish and smoke-flavoured fish
Fermented meat products, meat paste, and pâté
Peanuts and pistachio nuts, and food that contains such products (including peanut butter)
Tahini and other crushed sesame seed products, and food that contains such products
Ready-to-eat crustaceans, including shrimps, prawns, lobsters, crabs, and Moreton Bay bugs, and food that contains such products
Bivalve molluscan shellfish (except scallops that are adductor muscle only), and food that contains bivalve molluscan shellfish
Scallops (whole adductor muscle only)
Pepper, chilli, and paprika (dried)
Bovine meat and bovine meat products (including food containing such products)

Source: Ministry for Primary Industries (2023), Food notice: Requirements for registered food importers and imported food for sale.

Specified high-risk foods have additional importing requirements

Specified high-risk foods require food safety clearance

Importers of specified high-risk foods need to meet more requirements than those listed in paragraph 2.4. Importers must not allow specified high-risk food to be sold until food safety clearance has been given. Figure 4 shows the food safety clearance process.

Figure 4
Food safety clearance process for specified high-risk foods

Flow chart that describes the process for imported specified high-risk food when it arrives at the border. The food safety officer determines which border clearance requirements apply. Depending on the food, they can require the importer provides documentation (such as an official certificate) or have the food tested. The food safety officer determines whether the imported food meets the clearance requirements. If it doesn’t, the food goes back to the importer who either destroys it or re-exports it. If the food does meet the requirement, then it can be given an unconditional clearance or a conditional clearance. If it is given an unconditional clearance then the food is allowed into the country. If the food is given a conditional clearance, it must meet certain clearance conditions before it is allowed in the country. If the food does not meet these conditions, then it goes back to the importer who either destroys the food or re-exports it.

The Ministry's food safety officers are responsible for checking that consignments of specified high-risk foods meet relevant food safety clearance requirements.

To receive food safety clearance, importers must:

  • provide documentation that gives assurance that the food has been managed safely; or
  • have the food tested in New Zealand for specific hazards.

Food that meets clearance requirements are allowed into the country. In some cases, food safety officers can apply additional conditions to food that does not meet clearance requirements. For example, some food might need to be heat treated before obtaining clearance. If a food does not meet the clearance conditions, it will be destroyed or re-exported.

Requirements for food safety clearance vary depending on the food and where it is from. Some imported foods are only accepted from jurisdictions where the Ministry has confidence in their food safety system (although some clearance requirements still apply). Other specified high-risk foods are accepted from any country but require testing. For example:

  • Raw milk products are only accepted from the European Union, the United Kingdom, or Switzerland. Importers are required to provide an official certificate (see paragraph 2.24).
  • Pepper, chilli, and paprika require testing regardless of the country of origin.
  • Fermented meat products, meat paste, and pâté from the European Union or the United Kingdom require official documentation stating that the food is safe. When imported from any other country these same types of food must be tested.

What documentation importers can provide for clearance of specified high-risk foods

The types of documentation that importers can provide at the border include:

  • an official certificate from the country of origin's competent authority;5
  • a declaration from the food manufacturer; or
  • documented evidence confirming the food has passed a specified test or meets a specified condition.6

The use of documents for border clearance, where this is an option, varies greatly between food types. For example, the Ministry's data showed that for the year ending June 2023, only 4% of consignments of peanuts, pistachio nuts, and food that contains such products are cleared using documents. This compares to 24% of frozen berry consignments or 86% of fresh, curd, and soft cheeses.

What sampling and testing involves

Food can be sampled and tested when this is identified as an option in the current Food Notice. Testing for food safety clearance purposes is not intended to establish the safety of the imported food. It is the responsibility of importers to establish that food that arrives in New Zealand is safe and suitable before this testing. Importers should have records to show that they have done this.

The Ministry's sampling and testing involves testing fewer samples than would be required to establish safety. The process is designed only to provide additional assurance that importers have complied with the requirements to establish the safety and suitability of the food.

Sampling and testing takes place in New Zealand. A sample of the food is taken by food safety officers and tested for specific organisms or substances. Samples are tested only at a Ministry-approved laboratory. Importers must safely store the food being tested until a food safety officer provides clearance.

2: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization (2003), Assuring Food Safety and Quality: Guidelines for Strengthening National Food Control Systems, at

3: Section 204 of the Food Act 2014 allows the Ministry to issue notices that set requirements or specify matters that are permitted by the Act, or to supplement regulations made under the Act.

4: The Food Act 2014 defines suitability as the composition, labelling, identification, and condition of the food being appropriate for its intended use.

5: Official certificates are negotiated and agreed on between the Ministry and the exporting country's competent authority – the organisation that has the legally delegated or invested authority, capacity, or power to perform this function. Official certificates are issued by the exporting country's competent authority for a specific consignment of food. See

6: The test or condition that must be met is set out in the 2023 Food Notice. See