Appendix G: Holding Orders

Holding Orders, which are specific to the food and not to the importer, are intended to ensure that surveillance foods that have previously failed are referred for inspection when next imported, regardless of importer.

Foods can fail for a number of reasons including: contamination, high microbial counts, illegal or excess additives, high residue or heavy METAl levels, and labelling non-compliance, for both food safety matters and for non-compliance with other Food Standards Code requirements.

There are six principal steps in the Holding Order process:

  • Active and random surveillance foods found to have failed inspection have a "Holding Order Request" lodged by the inspecting officer.
  • The Holding Order Request is processed by Canberra IFIP staff and a profile request sent to ACS. The profile request includes the tariff code, country of origin and supplier of the original shipment, and is processed by ACS. A profile is created in the ACS COMPILE system which automatically refers imported foods that meet these criteria to the AIMS system.
  • A profile is also created in the Holding Order database within AIMS including information on producer, tariff code and country of origin. Testing regimes are also allocated for this profile.
  • The importer of the food is notified that a Holding Order has been placed on the food and that the next five shipments of this food will need to be inspected. IFIP also notifies the relevant embassy of the foods country of origin of the failure.
  • For subsequent imports, food entries which match the Holding Order profile in COMPILE are referred to IFIP. The AIMS system screens the entry through its Holding Order profiles and the food is assigned a "Holding Order Test and Hold" direction within AIMS.
  • All analytical or labelling results are automatically recorded in the AIMS Holding Order database. After five successful passes, the Holding Order is then revoked in AIMS and Customs is notified to lift the profile from COMPILE, and the food reverts back to the active or random surveillance category.

Problems with Holding Orders

There are several factors which affect the efficiency of the Holding Order system:

  • Accuracy of profile criteria

Tariff codes: These are broad and open to interpretation by brokers, as the same food may be entered under more than one tariff code by brokers.

Country of origin: Some brokers are entering shipments of similar products from more than one country using the suppliers country as the country of origin, (ie product from Germany, France, and Switzerland all on one shipment from a supplier in Germany).

Supplier: Foods supplied by a different supplier than the original shipper do not get referred for inspection. There is a potential for an importer to knowingly change suppliers to clear product because if the same food as that on a Holding Order is exported from a different supplier, it does not match the profile.

Producer: There is a tendency by customs brokers to name the supplier as the producer, corrupting the data in AIMS. Officers often record the supplier as the producer on the Imported Food Inspection Report and the Holding Order Request form, further compounding this problem.

  • AIMS and COMPILE databases

Supplier and producer names are allocated unique codes within the ACS COMPILE system and copied in the AIMS system. Variations in spelling of these names can and does lead to multiple records for each supplier and producer. ACS has direct control over supplier listings and codes while AQIS only has control over producer listings.

There is a need for AQIS, ACS, customs brokers and importers to ensure that multiple listings are not created and that present databases are examined with a view to removing multiple listings. AQIS and ACS should be educating both stakeholders and their own staff in the correct use of these databases and more stringently assessing new allocations of codes.

  • Present number of Holding Orders

There are approximately 2150 Holding Orders in the database as at 25 August 1998, and of these approximately 320 have been revoked. This large number of Holding Orders covers a wide array of foods and reasons for failure. However, approximately 60 percent of all failures have been for labelling non-compliance.

  • Lack of database access to field officers

Field officers do not have access to AIMS, and are often unable to determine whether a food referred for inspection by a Holding Order is actually on a Holding Order. A possible scenario, as a consequence of this situation, is:

Product A (sauce) from manufacturer M exported to Australia by supplier S fails because of an illegal additive. A Holding Order is placed on this product (ie sauce) citing S as the supplier. Five shipments of sauce products supplied by S (not necessarily to the same importer as product A) are then inspected and tested and passed. However, these are different sauces (products B and C), and product A undergoes no inspection because it is not imported at this time. The Holding Order is then revoked because of the five "clear" importations and yet product A (the failing product) has never been flagged or inspected again by the program, and may be imported again under its normal rate of inspection.

Apart from the fact that product A should not be allowed in without inspection and now will be, there has also been considerable and unnecessary expense and delay to the importers of the five other shipments.

Problems within the Holding Order system can and do lead to instances of foods being referred for inspection when there is no real need, and also to foods that are on a Holding Order not being inspected when they should have been.

Last reviewed:
23 Apr 2007