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Fresh calls to review regulations around ‘high risk’ food

A NSW provider has reignited calls for food safety regulations to be amended in order to grant residents in residential aged care greater decision-making power over what they eat.

St Elizabeth Home’s executive director of care services Rodney Jilek has written to a number of politicians and public figures to argue state-based food safety regulations, such as the Vulnerable Persons Food Safety Scheme in NSW, conflicted with the federal Aged Care Act, in that they did not allow residents to exert their right to choice, decision making and risk taking.

Dr Jilek penned his letter after a recent food safety audit, where he was warned the continued service of ‘high risk’ foods to residents who had requested them would lead to non-compliance.

He told Australian Ageing Agenda the conflict between the laws was leading providers to a dilemma about which one to breach.

Dr Jilek said in his own facility, while he would not serve high risk foods to the general population as a matter of practice, if a resident made a informed request, he would grant it.

“These people have the right to take those risks and make those choices… I will give them all the information that I have available to me, I will explain to that it’s probably not what I would do, but at the end of the day the choice is theirs,” he said.

Rodney Jilek

Rodney Jilek

Dr Jilek said that while food safety regulation has resulted in major improvements in the safe handling and preparation of food across residential care, the current laws did not support residents’ rights to self-determination as enshrined in the federal law, and failed to complement the movement of the industry towards consumer choice.

He said he was concerned the restrictive nature of these laws meant providers were covering up the service of these foods from regulators, and that many residents were going behind the backs of staff and hiding food in their rooms.

Dr Jilek said he would like to see an amendment to food safety legislation that would recognise residents’ right to choose, make decisions and take risks, in line with the Commonwealth legislation.

Sector support

Peter Morgan-Jones, HammondCare’s executive chef, was partly inspired to co-author the cookbook Don’t Give Me Eggs That Bounce last year having heard complaints from residents across the country about “rubber eggs.”

Mr Morgan-Jones told AAA the fact that food safety regulations varied drastically across states was a challenge for a federally accredited sector. Over-compliance based on fear was another, and he urged providers to explore ways they could shape food provision around the needs and wants of the older person, not the organisation or regulators.

Peter Morgan-Jones

Peter Morgan-Jones

HammondCare has long advocated on the impact of food safety regulation. In 2010, CEO Stephen Judd described eggs poached to the regulation of the day as “kiln-fired organic pottery” leading to a widespread debate.

“We have seen some regulatory change since then such as in NSW where we are able to serve poached eggs as long as the egg white is firm and the edge of the yoke closest to the white is setting. We can also now serve soft cheeses and don’t have to sanitise fruit and vegetables, except for melons,” said Mr Morgan-Jones.

“But challenges clearly continue. One challenge is that food regulations often tighten again over time and in part this leads aged care providers to be reluctant to change their practice.”

Aged and Community Services Australia CEO John Kelly said that ACSA would support the Commonwealth leading a move to request the states amend their food safety legislation to acknowledge resident choice and risk taking.

“Consumer direction in the end must win out – whether we are dealing with state or Commonwealth laws,” he said.

You can read Rodney Jilek’s letter here.

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