13 Jul 2015

Warning over unlicensed hangi sales

6:04 pm on 13 July 2015

People are being warned that selling homemade hangi for profit could soon attract a hefty fine.

A hāngi is prepared for tourists at Mitai Maori Village, Rotorua.

Hāngi preparations Photo: Wikicommons

The New Plymouth District Council said it had had an increase in complaints about the online sale of homemade foods, including hangi.

Currently online food sales are unregulated, but when the new Food Act comes into effect in March next year any unlicensed sales could attract a fine of up of $450.

The council's manager of regulatory services, Mary-Anne Priest, said the commercial sale of food from unregistered kitchens was already illegal, but conditions were set to get much tougher.

Ms Priest said until now the council had taken a "softly-softly" approach with people selling hangi and other food online, but it was evident there was still a lot of ignorance about the rules.

"Generally when people are phoned or when we email them and contact them, a lot of them are not aware that they are required to register as a business and have their kitchens inspected.

"So with most people what we find is that as soon as they are aware of it they either register with us or their website disappears."

Food control plans needed

Ms Priest said under the new Act people who regularly prepared and sold high-risk foods, including hangi - whether online or not - would need verified food control plans.

"It depends on whether they are selling it as part of a business or if they are doing it as a one-off event for charity.

"So if they're actually selling hangi as a retail business then, yes, it does affect them."

The owner of a commercial hangi business in Auckland, who did not want to be identified, said she welcomed the tougher regulations.

"The public need to know there is a certain standard that they go by, like where the food's stored, where are they buying it from. You know, if it is cheap there must be a reason why it is cheap.

"You don't know how long the food's been stored for, or in what conditions, so yeah, I think there needs to be some kind of standard that they go by, or (a) licence."

The woman, who had been in the hangi business for more than 15 years, said public safety should be paramount.

"It's still food at the end of the day and customers have to have some sort of safety because they've got no comeback on these people who sell online, because they are not registered.

"So if they get sick, there's a salmonella outbreak or something, then well it's the risk they take."

Demand huge

One thing that is not in doubt, is that there is a huge demand for takeaway hangi.

John Tipene owns the Waitara business Te Kohatu Hangi Cookers and sells them throughout New Zealand and Australia.

He sold several of his cookers to the only other registered hangi business in Auckland. That business used Facebook to generate sales and could barely keep up with demand.

"He was actually producing around 350 meals a day, six days a week, so he was really exploiting that niche in that market."

But Mr Tipene said his former client became overwhelmed by his own success and the business had since closed down.

"If you consider 350 meals and you times that by $12 a meal per day, and obviously when you see that kind of money ticking over, for some people I guess they just see it as a huge cash cow and keep milking it."

Mr Tipene said his former client would have been better off if he had invested some of his revenue in professional business advice.

The Food Act 2014 will be introduced progressively over a three-year period starting in March 2016.

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