Early childhood educators and kōhanga reo

All early childhood services need to make sure the food they serve is safe. Some centres will also need to be registered under national programme 2. Find out if you need to register – plus get food safety tips for your centre.

Who needs to register?

Early childhood education (ECE) centres or kōhanga reo that cook meals or prepare food – like sandwiches or salads – need to register under national programme 2.

You don't need to register if:

  • all the food is brought in by kids from home (for example in lunch boxes)
  • you only serve fruit or pre-packaged snacks that don't need to be kept cold (like muffins or crackers)
  • you prepare food with the kids only as part of the curriculum
  • you run a home-based service
  • you don't charge enrolment fees (or otherwise charge for the food).

Use this chart to help decide if you need to register

flowchart to decide if you need to register under national programme 2
Flow chart showing how to decide if you need to register under national programme 2. 

The flow chart provides 4 questions to help ECE centres decide if they need to register under National Programme 2.

  1. Do you run a home based ECE service?
      Yes – You don't need to register. All you need to do is make safe and suitable food.
      No – Go to question 2.
  2. Do you cook or prepare food, such as meals, sandwiches or salads?
      Yes – Go to question 3.
      No – You don't need to register. All you need to do is make safe and suitable food.
  3. Do you only make food with the children as part of the curriculum? (If you aren't sure, contact the local council).
      Yes – You don't need to register. All you need to do is make safe and suitable food.
      No – Go to question 4.
  4. Do you charge an enrolment fee? (Not including Koha/voluntary donation).
      Yes – Register under National Programme 2.
      No – You don't need to register. All you need to do is make safe and suitable food.

[End of long description]

Check other examples 

We also have more detailed examples of when early child centres and kōhanga reo should register under national programme 2.

Still unsure?

If you're still not sure if you need to register, use the My food rules tool to find out.

If you don't need to register, there's nothing else you have to do except make sure any food you serve is safe to eat.

Working under national programme 2

To operate under national programme 2, you'll have to:

  • register your centre under the Food Act. This will likely be with your local council
  • meet food safety requirements and keep some records
  • get checked (known as verified) by a food safety expert. The expert may be from an independent agency or your local council.

Follow these steps

Expand All
Step 1: Register
  • Most centres should register with their local council. 
  • Registration is once every 2 years, and each council sets their own fees. 
  • Call or email your council and tell them you need to sign up your centre to national programme 2.

If you run more than one centre – and they are in different council areas – you can choose to register with MPI.

When to register

If your centre opened after 1 March 2016, you need to apply to register as soon as you get your probationary ECE licence from the Ministry of Education.

If your centre opened before 1 March 2016, you need to register before 31 March 2017.

Step 2: Find a verifier

You'll need to arrange for a verifier to visit your centre to check you're making safe food. You don't need to be verified straight away. But you should choose a verifier before you register and list them on your application form.

There are 2 ways to do this:

If you can't find a suitable verifier, or they seem too expensive, you can register without one for now. Let us know, and we can help you find a verifier – email info@mpi.govt.nz

Check Step 4 below to find out when you should get verified.

Fees and charges

Verification agencies set their own fees, and hourly rates vary from about $115 to $210 an hour plus travel costs. Verification should take between 2 and 3 hours for a single centre if there are no food safety issues.

Step 3: Keep food safety records

Make sure everyone who touches food in your centre knows how to keep it safe and suitable.

Check food safety tips and guidance for early childhood centres [PDF, 249 KB]

You need to keep written records to show your verifier, including:

  • sickness records
  • problems with pests
  • allergy information
  • cooking poultry (chicken or duck)
  • chilling cooked food
  • temperature of received or transported food
  • what happens and what you do when things go wrong.

You can use our template to keep records or create your own.

Template for keeping food safety records [DOC, 61 KB]

Step 4: Get checked

Your verifier will visit to make sure you're set up to make safe and suitable food. They'll also look through your records.

When to get verified
  • New centres must be verified within a month of opening. 
  • Existing centres and kōhanga reo will have up to 12 months from registering to get verified.
  • You'll be verified once every 3 years, if there are no food safety issues.

Food safety tips for your centre


  • Don't touch food if you are unwell, especially if you have been vomiting or have diarrhoea.
  • Wash and dry your hands well before touching food.
  • Know what's in the food you serve and make sure no one is given food they're allergic to.


  • When storing food, keep raw and cooked food separate.
  • Prepare raw food (especially chicken) away from cooked food.
  • Keep places where you make food clean, tidy and free of pests (like insects, mice and birds).
  • Regularly remove rubbish from areas where there is food.


  • Clean utensils and surfaces before and after making food.
  • Cook meat until it's fully cooked all the way through.
  • Re-heat leftovers until piping hot, and re-heat only once.
  • Cover foods when storing. Either wrap it or store in clean sealed containers.
  • Chill cold foods below 6 degrees Celsius in the fridge. Keep cold when transporting, in a chilly bin for example.

Food safety guidance for early childhood centres [PDF, 249 KB]

Why ECE centres come under the Food Act

Early childhood education (ECE) centres are included under the Food Act because:

  • children are among the most vulnerable populations for food-related illness
  • ECE centres are considered high-risk.

Reasons for high-risk status

The main sources of information about food-related illnesses are Ministry of Health surveillance reports. The reports are compiled by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) from national health data. They show ECE centres are high-risk locations. Since 2011 they:

  • were either the second-or-third-highest common setting for outbreaks of food-related illness (for example, 90% of the cases are gastrointestinal).
  • had the second-highest number of individual cases of food-related illness. This means that significant numbers of vulnerable children and others in ECE settings were affected.

To decide who to include under the Food Act, MPI used a detailed risk-ranking process. This process found ECE centres were high-risk. Factors measured in the process include the type of food served, its intended use, food preparation, whether food is targeted at vulnerable populations, and how many people might be affected in a food illness outbreak.

For these reasons, ECE centres work under a national programme 2. This ensures these risks are adequately managed as long as the centres follow the food safety requirements.

Who to contact

If you have questions about the information on this page, email info@mpi.govt.nz

Last reviewed: