food-safety

Introduction

Food safety in the UK is enforced by various pieces of legislation. The legislation applies to any firm that is involved in the production, processing, storage, distribution and sale of food.

The Food Safety Act 1990 (the Act) is the main piece of UK legislation relating to food safety and is supplemented by UK and European Union (EU) food regulations.

Under this Act, the definition of food includes drinks, substances of no nutritional value which can be consumed by humans such as vitamins and chewing gum, and substances used as ingredients in the preparation of food. The Act also defines a food business as 'any business in the course of which commercial operations with respect to food or food sources are carried out'.

Food Safety Act 1990

The Food Safety Act 1990 places responsibilities on food business operators to protect the public from consuming food that may be harmful to them. A food business operator's main responsibilities under the Act are:

  • To ensure that nothing is included in food or removed from food, and to prevent food from being treated in any way, that results in harm to consumers.

  • To ensure that food served or sold is of the nature (eg selling haddock as cod), substance (eg selling milk powder with below minimum milk protein levels) or quality (eg selling stale cake) consumers would expect.

  • To ensure that food is labelled, advertised and presented in a way that is not false or misleading.

Local authority environmental health officers and trading standards officers enforce the Act. Officers have powers to enter and inspect premises, take samples and seize any food deemed unfit for human consumption. Officers may serve a notice on food business operators to rectify non-compliance or charge them with an offence. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and Food Standards Scotland are also able to take action against food business operators to ensure compliance.

The Act applies in England, Wales and Scotland. In Northern Ireland, the Food Safety (Northern Ireland) Order 1991 imposes similar requirements.

Food hygiene regulations

UK food hygiene regulations consist of four separate sets of national legislation:

  • The Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013.
  • The Food Hygiene (Wales) Regulations 2006.
  • The Food Hygiene (Scotland) Regulations 2006.
  • The Food Hygiene Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006.

The food hygiene regulations impose requirements on food business operators to ensure that food is safe for human consumption and to enforce food hygiene requirements that are set out in EC Regulations 852/2004 and 853/2004.

The UK Regulations apply to all food business operators, including those that manufacture, prepare, handle, process, package, store, transport, sell, distribute or supply food.

The main provisions of the UK Regulations include premises registration, Food Safety Management Systems and staff training in food hygiene.

General Food Law Regulation (EC) 178/2002

Under the General Food Law Regulation (EC) 178/2002, food business operators must comply with strict rules regarding the safety, presentation, traceability and withdrawal and recall of food produce.

To comply with the rules, food business operators must keep detailed records of ingredients and produce they purchase from their immediate suppliers and of any ingredients or produce they supply to their immediate trade customers. This is known as the 'one step forward and one step back' approach.

Traceability records should include, as a minimum, the name and address of the supplier, the nature of the supplies and, where one is provided, batch number, the order quantity or volume, and the date of the supply. The FSA has published guidance about food safety, traceability, product withdrawal and recall at www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/fsa1782002guidance.pdf.

These rules are enforced under the Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013 in England, and under the General Food Regulations 2004 and Food Hygiene Regulations 2006 in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

EC Regulation 852/2004 on the hygiene of foodstuffs

EC Regulation 852/2004 sets out general food hygiene rules for food business operators. The Regulation places a duty on food business operators to ensure that all stages of food production, processing and distribution comply with hygiene standards.

The Regulation covers a wide range of areas, including the registration and condition of the premises, water supply, ventilation, facilities and equipment, staff health, protection and training, and hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) processes. It also covers the storage and handling of waste and hazardous substances, use of feed additives and veterinary medicinal products, use of plant protection products and biocides, temperature control, maintenance of the cold chain, sampling and analysis, transportation and record keeping.

There are also particular standards and requirements for food business operators operating from marquees, market stalls and mobile sales vehicles.

Food business operators must apply to the local authority for registration of their premises. The application process requires them to declare that they are aware of the provisions of the Regulation and to comply with them.

These rules are enforced under the Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013 in England, and under the Food Hygiene Regulations 2006 in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

EC Regulation 853/2004 on specific hygiene rules for food of animal origin

The EC Regulation 853/2004 sets out hygiene rules for food business operators where food is of animal origin, such as meat and meat products, eggs, milk and dairy products, and fish and fish products. It places a duty on food business operators to ensure that they comply with specific hygiene standards.

The hygiene standards set out by the Regulation cover a wide range of areas, including registration and approval of premises, health and identification marking, certificates and other documentation, and HACCP processes. The Regulation also covers food chain information, frozen food, storage and transport, slaughterhouses, slaughter outside the slaughterhouse, hunting and handling of wild game, meat production, live bivalve molluscs, other fishery products, milk and colostrum, eggs, frogs' legs and snails, rendered animal fats and greaves, gelatine and collagen.

These rules are enforced under the Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013 in England, and under the Food Hygiene Regulations 2006 in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

More information and guidance can be found in our factsheet, which summarises the key legislation relating to food safety, including EU regulations.

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