We were recently contacted by Laura McOscar who wanted to share her experience staying in an MIQ facility with her family who live with food allergies. Her query is below, followed by a response from Allergy New Zealand and a response from MPI/NZ Food Safety.
Laura shares her experience, here:
In one of our meals, my son was provided with a protein cookie that contained peanut butter! Thankfully, it was packaged, so I checked the ingredient list and was able to intercept it before he ate it. He was also served a burger containing mayonaise (and presumably egg). I was served several things containing wheat, including a caramel slice, a pain au chocolat, and some bread, none of which had been packaged. When the caramel slice arrived, we called to check the ingredients and they assured us it was wheat-free. I had a small amount and experienced a minor reaction. It definitely was not safe for me to eat.
I gather we are not the only people in MIQ to suffer in this way and this is simply not good enough. With MIQ set to continue, and numbers only forecast to rise, a solution to this must be found”.
Allergy New Zealand Responds:
Laura had made a complaint about the family’s problems with accessing safe food while in MIQ, which went to the Resolutions Team, Managed Isolation and Quarantine, Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE).
Allergy New Zealand has been aware of similar issues for returning travellers and was grateful that Laura contacted us directly. This gave us an opportunity to investigate and make recommendations for others, as she had requested.
In our investigation, we found that, whether an MIQ food service provider is the facility (e.g. hotel) itself, or a contracted service delivering food to the facility, they must be registered under New Zealand’s food laws. Registration may be with the Ministry of Primary Industries/New Zealand Food Safety, or with their local Territorial Authority e.g. Auckland Council.
A requirement of registration is producing safe food and food businesses must be checked by a verifier or auditor. The food business must be able to demonstrate to its verifier that it is following the food safety rules, including food allergen management. If a verifier finds that a business is not complying e.g. there is a consumer complaint which indicates a critical risk to food safety, then that must be reported to the registration authority involved – either MPI/NZ Food Safety or the local authority.
However, Laura had been advised by the MIQ facility to make a complaint to the Resolutions Team at MBIE. It would appear this was then treated as a consumer complaint (hence a ‘resolution process’), and not as a food safety issue under the Food Act 2014.
Allergy New Zealand discussed this with MPI/NZ Food Safety and confirmed that they, or the appropriate authority (e.g. a Council) will investigate complaints they receive, along the lines made by Laura. Under the 2014 Food Act, and associated regulations, they also have legal powers to enforce the rules and take appropriate actions in response including prosecution.
MIQ facilities are not the only places where people with food allergies struggle to access safe – and suitable – food. Hospitals are also an issue for many.
Allergy New Zealand recommends:
If you have concerns over the safety of food being served, contact MPI/NZ Food Safety on 0800 00 83 33 or email email@example.com. Note that facilities like MIQ and hospitals will also have their own complaints procedures. Follow these but also inform them if a complaint has been made to NZ Food Safety.
See the MPI website for more information: Reporting an allergic reaction to foods
If you need any help or advice, you can also contact Allergy New Zealand on firstname.lastname@example.org
16 July 2021