Policy directive frequently asked questions
Updated Advice - August 2022
The Department of Health and the Healthy Eating Advisory Service (HEAS) acknowledge current pressures on Victorian health services due to the COVID-19 pandemic and are taking a flexible approach to implementing the Healthy choices policy directive. We congratulate and recognise the significant efforts and progress already made by health services towards meeting this policy. HEAS will continue to support and meet with all health services to assist them in their progress. Health services are encouraged to contact HEAS if they are having any difficulties meeting the Policy directive requirements.
Key topics on this page include:
The Policy directive is based on the existing Healthy choices: food and drink classification guide and policy guidelines for hospitals and health services for food, with a new requirement for sugary (or RED category) drinks not to be sold, provided or promoted in any in-house managed retail food outlets, all vending and all catering. In the past these guidelines were voluntary, but the Policy now requires all Victorian public health services implement the Healthy choices: Policy directive for public health services for their in-house managed food retail, all vending and all staff/visitor catering.
- Food: Public health services will be required to meet the relevant Healthy Choices guidelines for food, meeting the targets of at least 50% GREEN food and no more than 20% RED foods for in-house retail food outlets and all vending.
- Drinks: Public health services will be required to meet the Policy directive with no sugary (or RED category) drinks to be sold or promoted in in-house retail food outlets and all vending. No more than 20% drinks containing artificial or intense sweeteners (classified AMBER) are to be available. At least 50% GREEN drinks to be provided in all vending and in-house food retail outlets.
- Catering: Public health services will be required to meet the existing Healthy choices: healthy eating policy and catering guide for workplaces – that is no RED foods/drinks to be provided and at least 50% GREEN foods/drinks.
The Healthy choices: Policy directive for public health services (in-house retail, catering and vending) was announced in early 2021 and came into effect in August 2021. Health services will be given time to meet this new policy directive, with it being phased in across the next two years.
The Healthy Eating Advisory Service are the experts in supporting health services to understand and implement the Healthy Choices guidelines and Policy directive.
We can help your organisation to meet the Policy directive with:
- Coaching and training for staff on implementing the Healthy Choices guidelines
- Assistance with engaging with staff and contractors, and developing organisational policies
- Tailored advice on healthier menus, recipes and products
- Access to online menu, recipe and product assessments, using FoodChecker
The Policy applies to:
- public hospitals and health services
- public sector residential aged care services
- integrated community health services operated under the management of a public health service
- mental health services that operate under management of a public health service
The provision of healthier food and drinks through catering* provided by public health services is included in the new Policy directive, in line with the Healthy choices: healthy eating policy and catering guide for workplaces. This includes catering ordered by the health service from any food outlet - internal or external.
Whilst not included in the policy directive, health services are encouraged to promote and communicate their healthy catering policy to any external groups using their facilities, for example community support groups.
*catering applies to staff procuring food and drinks with health service (government funds) for meetings, functions, and events. This includes occasions such as workshops, conferences, community events, launches, celebrations and ceremonies, as well as client or community education, information, or training programs. It also includes food/drinks provided (free) on the ward or in staff rooms/waiting rooms for staff/visitors (e.g. tea/coffee, water, fruit, biscuits, lollies).
The Healthy choices: Policy directive for public health services has a requirement that only GREEN or AMBER food and drink options are provided at staff and event catering* with no RED options are to be provided. Whilst RED food and drink options should be avoided wherever possible, it is recognised that health services may provide small amounts of RED foods or drinks for occasional and defined events. If they are provided on those occasions, it should be in line with the following:
- ideally, ordered with prior approval of a relevant executive or delegate
- if alcohol** is provided, it must be served responsibly in compliance with Victorian liquor regulations
- be clearly documented and communicated in a relevant organisational policy (e.g., catering, health and wellbeing, or OH&S policies).
**For further information, refer to the responsible service of alcohol on the Victorian Commission of Gaming and Liquor Regulation website and the Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol.
Recommendations on the provision of alcohol by public health services, as part of catering for events for staff/visitors, is in line with guidance provided in the Healthy choices: healthy eating policy and catering guide for workplaces.
Please refer to the question and answer above ('catering for special occasions') in regards to alcohol provision.
Catering needs to meet the Policy directive targets (for drinks in 2022) but you will not need to submit a FoodChecker assessment for your Policy directive reporting to the Department of Health. Questions around your organisation’s healthy catering policy and processes will be asked as part of the Department of Health Policy directive reporting. You should still use FoodChecker to assess your catering to help plan and implement your healthy catering policy and ensure you are meeting the Policy directive targets.
The Healthy choices: Policy directive for health services includes a limit on the proportion of artificially sweetened AMBER category drinks that can be available or promoted via in-house retail outlets and vending machines. Flavoured milks/alternatives that may contain artificially sweetener are not counted in this limit. This is to be consistent with the way flavoured milks/alternatives are assessed under the Healthy choices: food and drink classification guide (i.e. based on fat and kilojoule content). For more information on the AMBER artificially sweetened drinks, visit the Healthy Eating Advisory Service drinks webpage.
All Victorian public health services are strongly encouraged to implement the Healthy choices: Policy directive for health services across all of their retail food outlets – both in-house and privately/commercially managed. This includes retail outlets that have food supplied from an inpatient/resident food service, managed by an external contractor.
This will help Victorian health services meet the target in the Victorian Cancer Plan 2020-2024 for “at least 80 per cent of hospital and health services’ retail outlets and vending machines to meet recommended Victorian nutrition standards” by 2024.
Ensuring that in-house managed retail food outlets meet the new Healthy choices: Policy directive for public health services is a first step in a phased approach to ensuring the provision and promotion of healthier food and drinks in our public health services.
For mixed vending machines (that contain both food and drinks), the policy requirements/targets are slightly modified. For more information on vending click here.
As part of your FoodChecker Policy directive assessment you can search and assess drinks to find out if they contain artificial sweetener.
You need to assess each vending machine layout, not each individual vending machine. For example, if you have 10 vending machines with identical layouts you can do one assessment (when fully stocked) for that layout, not 10 individual assessments.
The Policy directive targets for drinks are due to be met by 30 September 2022.
As part of the Department of Health reporting requirements all public health services must use the FoodChecker Policy directive assessment tool to assess drinks provided via their internally managed food outlets (including items purchased by staff and visitors from patient/resident menus) and vending machines.
The assessment will state if your food outlet, catering, or vending machine layout meets each of the Policy directive targets for food and drinks, as well as adherence to no promotion of RED items
FoodChecker has been upgraded to reflect the targets of the Policy directive. This new assessment option is available to use now. The window for assessing against the drinks targets in 2022 will be open from 11 April to 30 September.
No. Prior to 11 April 2022 FoodChecker assessments were based on the current Healthy Choices guidelines and did not assess foods and drinks against the Healthy Choices Policy directive for health services targets. FoodChecker assessments submitted for Department of Health Policy directive reporting must have been conducted between 11 April – September 2022.
Health services can still assess their foods and drinks using the original Healthy Choices assessment tool in FoodChecker. This will be relevant for public hospitals with externally managed retail food outlets and private health services. However, for those public health services with internally managed retail food outlets and any vending you will need to use the new Policy directive assessment in FoodChecker for reporting purposes.
FoodChecker will allow you to assess drinks only, food only or both food and drinks. If you have assessed both food and drinks in your FoodChecker assessment only the drink provision needs to meet the Policy directive targets in 2022.
Complete at least one assessment of drinks for each internally managed retail food service (including items purchased by staff and visitors from patient/resident menus) and one assessment per vending machine layout.
If your health service has no (or limited) provision of food and drinks across any of their sites you are still required to submit some information to the Department of Health via the online portal. The questions you need to answer will be brief (and will not require a FoodChecker assessment). This provides the Department with a complete state-wide picture of the Healthy choices: Policy directive implementation and provides the opportunity to keep your health service’s contact details up to date in the portal. It also helps us track the changes over time to food/drink environments.
We recommend using one FoodChecker account per health service (i.e., the parent organisation) to complete assessments for all sites/locations under the parent organisation. Or use one FoodChecker account per site (e.g., per hospital or facility) to complete all required assessments for that site. Whilst any relevant staff member/s can be involved in FoodChecker assessments and complete the Department of Health Policy directive reporting, it is advised to have one central coordination person to ensure all information is inputted and submitted as needed.
Also note that the Policy directive document advises health services to allocate a key contact at the relevant executive level with overall accountability/responsibility for the Policy directive. This key person should be kept informed of reporting activities, as appropriate.
You can conduct as many assessments as you wish – only the assessment you select for final submission to the new online Policy directive reporting tool will be visible to the Department of Health.
A reporting tool is currently in development and will be live on 1 September 2022. This will be the portal that health services use to submit their Policy directive reporting (for drink provision in 2022 and foods in 2023) to the Department of Health. Health services will submit their FoodChecker assessment/s and answer some other general questions via this online portal. The window for reporting will be open from 1 September to 30 September 2022. Details on how to access and use the reporting portal will be communicated closer to the reporting period.
The Department of Health will only be able to see the FoodChecker assessment you choose to submit to the reporting portal.
The Department of Health plans to provide a state-wide report to the health sector on the implementation of the Healthy choices: policy directive for Victorian public health services.