A new initiative by the Ministry for Primary Industries is cracking down on unregistered cooks selling food online, particularly through social media channels. The selling of food online is in violation of the Food Act 2014, which requires all food vendors to hold a licence and follow strict food safety plans. Fines can range from a few hundred dollars to half a million, depending on the severity. MPI manager of food compliance Melinda Sando said that as social media becomes more pervasive in everyday life, complaints about food sold on social media are rising.
"As social media is used more, we do get complaints about it,” she said. “People can get sick or even die if people are selling food and don't understand about the risks and how to manage those risks.”
Often it is only after complaints of sickness that MPI is tipped off to unregistered food sellers, as many of the Facebook groups in which the transactions take place are private and carefully monitored by administrators. A large proportion of the offending food sellers are selling food which is hard to find but in high demand, such as hangi or rewena, a traditional Maori sourdough bread.
The Hangi Man was an online food-seller established in October 2013, operating out of a storage unit space in Panmure. The Hangi Man promised homecooked hangi delivered to the door, with prices ranging from $12 to $36 for a group meal. The meals consisted of chicken, pork, lamb, potato, kumara, pumpkin cabbage and a ‘homemade stuffing’.
However by December of that year, in anticipation of the incoming Food Act, The Hangi Man was forced to close. “The council wanted the hangi business to move into a more suitable location like an ex-takeaway shop that already had a certificate,” he said. After viewing several spots in Papatoetoe, Panmure, Papakura and Manurewa, the decision was made to close the enterprise altogether. A Facebook post announcing the closure said that the page would still be available as a marketplace for others to sell their own foods, but this doesn’t appear to have happened.
It is businesses like The Hangi Man that have MPI concerned. "We do get quite a lot of reports and complaints of unregulated meat," said Sando. "Anything that you're selling for profit – you need to be registered."
Restaurant & Café reached out to a number of individuals currently selling food through Facebook but none were willing to comment, for fear of being penalised themselves.