Food Law Basics

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Food Law Basics

There is a wealth of legislation around running a food business – meaning “any undertaking, whether for profit or not and whether public or private, carrying out any of the activities related to any stage of production, processing and distribution of food“. So this includes charity organisations and home-based businesses that handle raw and ready to eat foods. Key food hygiene regulations include:
Regulation (EC) No. 852/2004 on the hygiene of foodstuffs
The Food Hygiene (England) Regulations 2006 (as amended)
The 2011 FSA Guidance – now amended
The Food Standards Act 1999 (Transitional and Consequential Provisions and Savings (Scotland) Regulations 2000
These set out the basic hygiene requirements for all aspects of a business, from premises and facilities to the personal hygiene of staff. Comprehensive details of these regulations are contained in the FSA’s ‘Food Hygiene – A Guide for Business’. This is far clearer than the source legislation.
National and Regional Variations

Because food hygiene legislation is essentially European in nature broadly the same standards apply and broadly the same sort of Local Authority proper officers will be inspecting and enforcing. There are slight nuances; in England and Wales the Food Safety Management System (FSMS) usually recommended by Local Authorities (LAs) is Safer Food, Better Business, Scotland has CookSafe and RetailSafe. There are also FSA-endorsed food ratings schemes where consumers can see the results of LA hygiene inspections – publicly displaying these in the premises is already compulsory in Wales. The rating scheme in England and Wales has a 1-5 score and most LAs publish detailed inspection reports in the public domain. In Scotland premises are classed as ‘Pass’, ‘Improvement Required’ or ‘Awaiting Inspection’. While it is not compulsory to show this information in the window it is thought that if a FBO does not show a ‘Pass’ in the window customers will make their own assumptions. Scotland and Northern Ireland also have the Eat Safe awards intended to provide an incentive to food businesses to strive for food hygiene and food safety excellence by implementing management standards beyond those required by law. A couple of nuances are that in Scotland it’s required washing up liquids conform to BS EN 1276 or BS EN 13697 – this isn’t usually enforced outside Scotland. Also the sale of raw milk – or to give it its proper name – sewage – is prohibited in Scotland (The Food Hygiene (Scotland) Regulations 2006, SSI 2006/3, Schedule 6). Our microbiologists here have strong views on that subject! The sad fact is that national variations in how the same EU law on food hygiene and preparation is enforced pale into insignificance when compared with differences in approach across and even within LAs. The differences in approach taken by individual proper officers are breath-taking in their scope. The Local Government Association has been making efforts to encourage a consistency in approach which – if successful – will help immensely.

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