As the Melbourne restaurant scene reels from recent local council communications around safety audits for raw and rare meats, the Department of Health says the independent audit requirements are nothing new.

“There have been no changes since 2002 to the requirement for food service businesses that prepare and serve raw meat to develop audited Food Safety Programs,” a spokesperson told Broadsheet. Independent audits for high-risk classes of food have been a requirement for 21 years. Recent changes removed requirements for a number of Food Safety Programs (FSPs), while those for eight high-risk categories did not change.

“It is councils' responsibility to ensure food service businesses are informed about the requirements and abide by the laws,” the spokesperson says, adding that in August last year the health department removed the requirement to have a Food Safety Program in most circumstances, which it says reduced red tape for small businesses and cut costs for the industry.

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This is at odds with what many chefs and restaurateurs experienced after they were told by their council that food businesses were required to undertake an additional auditing process to serve certain raw red meats and game meats. None had been previously informed by their health inspectors or local council that these dishes fell short of established standards.

The Department says it is working on a module with FoodSmart to remove FSP costs related to raw meat products, but this is not expected to be available until 2024 at the earliest. This means food businesses currently undergoing the non-standard FSP and independent audit for raw meat products will still foot the bill.

The audit will be required once annually unless a venue adds a high-risk food process.

The Department also says that updated guidance around raw and rare dishes, intended for chefs and food business owners, is being prepared.

Luke Bresnan, owner of wine bar Little Andorra, has undergone multiple inspections and audits over the years for steak tartare and similar items, and sees this as a failure of communication. “It's their job to define, it's our job to comply," he says. “Every venue pays rates, furniture fees, town planning application fees to councils. Venues should not have to pay to do council's job.”

"If we've been serving what we've been serving since 2002, why the sudden panic?” says Mario Di Ienno, co-owner of Carlton North’s Gerald’s Bar. “Maybe the council did suddenly realise, but by the same token, do we need this? Everyone's been working fine. Why start doing it now?”

The City of Yarra has been contacted for comment.