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Food Safety and the Law

By: Abigail Taylor - Updated: 28 Mar 2017 | comments*Discuss
Food Safety Work Law Food Safety Act

The safety of food is essential to any consumer and so should be a priority for any food business. Consumers want to be assured that the food they buy and eat is:

  • What it is labelled to be (i.e. Doesn't contain pork if it is labelled as beef)
  • Will not harm them once eaten

In order to protect the public, various laws regulate food retailers. These include:

  • The Food Safety Act 1990
  • The General Food Law Regulation (Regulation EC 178/2002)
  • General Food Regulations 2004
  • Food Hygiene Regulations 2006

This legislation applies to anyone working with food, at the production, processing, storage, distribution or sale stages. Small businesses are not exempt from these regulations, neither are non-profit making organisations.

Offences under the Food Safety Act 1990

The Food Safety Act 1990 created three key offences:
  1. Rendering food injurious to health (e.g. selling gluten-free food that actually contains gluten)
  2. Selling food which is not of the nature or quality demanded (e.g. selling chicken nuggets made with chicken fat rather than actual meat)
  3. Falsely or misleadingly describing or presenting food (e.g. selling horsemeat mince labelled as beef)

The Punishments

The punishment for committing any of the above offences is:

For offences 1 & 2 - up to a £20,000 fine for each offence, or each time one of those offences is committed

For offence 3 - up to a £5000 fine

For any offence - up to 6 months imprisonment
(NB: In Scotland, the maximum punishment is up to a £10,000 fine and / or 12 months imprisonment)

Those who occasionally prepare food for gatherings or to sell at charitable events are not subject to the above offences, but still have duties regarding food hygiene under the General Food Regulations 2004.

Food Hygiene

Food retailers must by law have in place procedures to manage food safety, based upon the principles set out in Article 5(2) of the European Community Regulations. There is no law about what these procedures must be, as long as they address the seven principles set out in the Regulations.

The Seven Principles: HACCP

These seven principles are known as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point principles, or HACCP. The principles are:
  1. Conduct a hazard analysis (identify food safety hazards)
  2. Identify critical control points (the stages at which a hazard can be prevented or eliminated)
  3. Establish critical limits for each critical control point (the maximum and minimum level to which a hazard must be controlled)
  4. Establish critical control monitoring requirements (the monitoring activities needed to ensure compliance with the procedure)
  5. Establish corrective actions (actions to be taken when monitoring indicates non-compliance)
  6. Establish procedures to ensure that the HACCP system works as intended (validate and periodically review points 1-6)
  7. Establish record keeping procedures (keep a written plan on points 1-6, and record monitoring activities and their findings)

What the World Health Organisation Says

The World Health Organisation identifies some key hazards which will need to be considered in your plan:
  • pest control
  • separation of raw and cooked foods
  • storing food at the correct temperature
  • using safe, clean water
  • cooking food at a suitable temperature and for a suitable time to kill pathogens

Ensuring Compliance/Qualifications

It is primarily for the owners of a food retail business to ensure compliance with relevant laws, and they can be fined (and in some cases forced to close) if they do not comply. However, all employees or volunteers do have a role to play in ensuring food safety and complying with the procedures put in place to prevent hazards.

I work in a care home and last week I had to make breakfast for a few people. Do I need a food and hygiene certificate to do this? If I do, can I refuse to prepare food until I have obtained the necessary certification?

There is no legal requirement for anyone working with food to have any formal qualifications relating to food handling or food safety. However food retailers and their staff do need to have an awareness of basic principles covered on formal courses in order to comply with applicable laws and Regulations.

I work in a bowling club that has a kitchen. On some occasions food is put on - does the person making the food need food hygiene certificate? We are a private club.

The most common formal qualification is the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) Food Handling qualification.

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health

The CIEH food handling qualification is in three levels.

Level One is priced at approximately £17.50 plus VAT and covers topics such as: Food Poisoning; Food Storage; Personal Health and Hygiene; Cross contamination and Pests.

Level Two is priced at approximately £25 plus VAT and expands on Level One topics, as well as including topics such as: Cleaning; Risk assessment; Relevant legislation and Licensing.

Level Three is priced at £125 plus VAT and expands on Level topics, as well as focusing on supervisory management and giving food safety training to others.

Many food retailers (particularly larger chain restaurants) have their own training programmes in place. This will often be a combination of computer programmes (mini online lectures) and a written workbook, which covers all of these areas. As stated above, formal qualifications are not necessary, and you may choose to give training on a staff training day via oral discussion instead, which is just as acceptable.

TIP: If you choose to simply give Food Safety Training orally, such as at a staff meeting, ask staff to sign a declaration to confirm that they have received this training. As best practice, you should aim to give all staff this training approximately once a year to refresh Food Safety awareness.

It is not possible in this guide to go into depth about every food safety topic. However you will find below some key facts about some of the most important areas. You should ensure that you consider each area and adopt appropriate measures to address these hazards. The laws as detailed above are quite basic, and so it is up to you how to moderate your business to comply with these; there are no specific laws about what you must wear in a kitchen for example, but clearly wearing mud-stained clothing would not be appropriate. The below points are for guidance only and are considered best practice by many in the industry.

1) Food Poisoning

Symptoms of food poisoning include vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach cramps. Foods particularly susceptible to contamination, include raw meat, pre-cooked sliced meats/sandwiches, and dairy products such as eggs and soft cheese. The most common types of bacteria causing food poisoning are salmonella, E.coli, campylobacter and Listeria. Symptoms of food poisoning can occur anything from a few hours after to eating, to up to 70 days after in the most severe cases. The onset times depend upon the type of food poisoning.

2) Personal Health and Hygiene

I started work as a kitchen assistant recently at a residential home. The kitchen manager has told me I can no longer wear my watch due to health and safety. I am not forced to tie my hair up, I just have to wear a kind of baseball cap, which doesn't seem right. Also I am allowed to keep my wedding ring on. What are the actual requirements as far as dress and food preparation are concerned?

Food handlers should wear minimal jewellery - this is a contamination risk. Most kitchens allow food handlers to just wear a plain wedding band (i.e. no watch/earrings/necklace etc.

Some other rules for food handlers to follow are as follows:

  • Wash hands thoroughly before handling any food product and after touching any raw meat
  • Follow basic hygiene practices such as showering and wearing clean clothing
  • Avoid habits such as smoking or nail biting when handling food
  • Wear clean clothing when handling food - a protective jacket ensures food will not be contaminated by clothes that have been worn in the outside world, and protects clothes underneath from oil/fat stains. Long sleeves will also protect against spitting fat.
  • Tie hair back. It also helps to prevent contamination of food (such as hairs in food) if a hat is worn to cover hair.
  • Any wound should be covered with a waterproof plaster. This should be in a "detectable" colour (usually blue) so that it is easily spotted if it were to fall off. Blue plasters can be bought from most supermarkets.
  • If a food handler has sickness or diarrhoea, they should not handle food for at least 24 hours after the symptoms have subsided to avoid contaminating food (and passing the illness to other employees).

3) Food storage

Raw and cooked meat should always be stored separately. Any raw meat should be stored below cooked food so that the juices do not contaminate the cooked food. If you serve food for those with special dietary requirements, you should carefully consider what foods you store near other products (for example don't store bread next to gluten-free cooked pasta, as it might be contaminated by excess flour etc). Make sure you rotate your stock and do not use food beyond the "use by" date. Do not store cooked food for longer than approximately 3 days (even if stored in a fridge). Remember if it's mouldy/smells off, do not be tempted to serve it even if it is within its "use by" date.

4) Temperature Control

There are specific guidelines for temperature control:
  • Your fridges should store food at 3 to 5ºC and your freezer should store food at -18ºC or colder
  • If food is at any temperature between approximately 4ºC and 60ºC, it is described as being in "the danger zone". This refers to the temperature band at which harmful bacteria multiply the fastest
  • Refrigerating food does not kill bacteria, but it does slow their growth
  • Freezing food does not kill bacteria; they are merely dormant
  • Most food cooked to a minimum at 65ºC should ensure that bacteria are killed. However there are exceptions: pork and chicken should be cooked to approximately 75ºC (as a core temperature) to ensure that it is safe to eat

5) Pest Control

Pests are a problem for any food establishment, as food attracts pests. Common pests are insects, birds and rodents, the easiest way to keep out larger pests is to close doors and windows. Kitchens should be cooled by specially installed kitchen fans. If you need to open the door, use netting to cover the doorway to keep out pests.

Many kitchens have regular pest inspections by reputable companies such as Rentokil. Keep a record of any such inspections. Common signs of pests are small holes in dry food packets (especially grain), droppings, and dirty marks along the bottom of walls.

6) Licensing

Many establishments that serve food also serve alcohol. It is therefore essential that staff know the laws surrounding alcohol licensing. You must have a licence to serve alcohol, and that licence will specify the times at which you may do so. If a 16-17 year old eats a meal at a licensed restaurant, and are with a supervising adult (over 18 year old), they may have one small glass of wine, one beer or one cider. However technically it must be the adult who buys the drink, not the minor.

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Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
[Add a Comment]
Hi, I need some advice. My kids keep finding hair on their school meals, served green and pink chicken, when they complain to the school dinner ladies they ignore them and they don't give them a new meal. I just find the whole issue disgusting, the school is aware about the issue but doesn't seem to be doing anything to resolve it. I know that other parents complained. I am planning to send a letter to school as I've decided I want everything in writing. Anything I should mention to make them take it seriously or will I only cause issues to my kids? Thanks a lot in advance
Hotcold - 28-Mar-17 @ 1:45 PM
Wannie - Your Question:
I work in a hospital, where the food for the patients is served up by our domestics. The plated food is then covered, and we take the food to the patients. I have been told that we have to wear hair nets whilst doing this. Is this a legal requirement?

Our Response:
It's not a legal requirement but it's recommended good practice. Advice from the food standards agency states:
"The law says: Every person working in a food-handling area must maintain a high level of personal cleanliness. He or she must wear suitable, clean clothing and, where necessary, protective clothing."
Good practice "Staff should keep hair tied back and wear a suitable head covering, e.g. hat or hairnet, when preparing food."
SafeWorkers - 1-Mar-17 @ 11:07 AM
I work in a hospital, where the food for the patients is served up by our domestics. The plated food is then covered, and we take the food to the patients. I have been told that we have to wear hair nets whilst doing this. Is this a legal requirement?
Wannie - 27-Feb-17 @ 10:22 AM
anna - Your Question:
I am a cook in a residential care home, can I wear my engagement ring while cooking.

Our Response:
Cehck with your local authority. General advice that we come across most commonly is that staff should not wear watches or jewellery when preparing food except wedding bands.
SafeWorkers - 8-Feb-17 @ 12:24 PM
I am a cook in a residential care home, can i wear my engagement ring while cooking.
anna - 7-Feb-17 @ 10:29 AM
Hi I was just wondering what the laws are regarding children in a kitchen of a takeaway? As I live next door to one and there young children are there until late at night making alot of noise and I was under the impression that this is possibly against various laws? Thanks
Mini - 21-Dec-16 @ 9:12 PM
Rolo - Your Question:
Hello I work in a retail store in the bakery ,I am new to the job and have been left several times on my own to operated the bread slicer and the ovens.And I nearly cut my finger off several times and burnt my hand.Is this by law right if I have not yet obtained my level 2 in food and hygine?

Our Response:
Your employer will make its decisions based on risk assessments they've carried out. If you feel the conditions you're working in are not safe, you should make a formal complaint.
SafeWorkers - 13-Dec-16 @ 12:18 PM
Hello i work in a retail store in the bakery ,I am new to the job and have been left several times on my own to operated the bread slicer and the ovens.And I nearly cut my finger off several times and burnt my hand.Is this by law right if I have not yet obtained my level 2 in food and hygine?
Rolo - 12-Dec-16 @ 11:38 AM
Can you drink in food preparation areas. Like in a kitchen/ open kitchen.
Chef45 - 6-Dec-16 @ 1:08 AM
I am a cook in a care home the kitchen assistant feed the residents in there room and also the dining room I think this is wrong am I right
Pansy flower - 2-Dec-16 @ 8:26 PM
I work in an in store bakery and for the last few days the hot water has been off, they fixed it and it lasted 2 days, but now they are saying the boiler is broken , i asked how long until its fixed and all i got was 'god knows'i told them i thought it was illegal to prep food where there is no hot water , but i was told to just get on with it, please can someone tellme if i am right , as i dont want to be getting into any trouble. thanks
Tracey - 1-Dec-16 @ 3:05 PM
I am a cook in a residential home, some people say a hairange net is essential others say as long as your hair is tied up ito fine. Whichow is true?
Denise denis - 17-Oct-16 @ 4:31 PM
I am a trustee of a small village hall in Northumberland and we want to have a small freezer, what are the regulations?We already have a 5 star Hygene rating and a fridge.
Jacq - 2-Oct-16 @ 8:32 PM
Tamz- Your Question:
I am a deputy manager of a care home and staff on a six hour shift bring food in and like to put it in our fridge. The cook does not want it in the fridge do we have a legal requirement to provide a refrigerated area for staff in a six hour shift.

Our Response:
As 6 hour shifts are in place, employees are entitled to a minimum 20 minute break. Employers are not, obliged to provide a fridge for storage of staff food. As an employer, you do need to provide: drinking water; a suitable seating area for workers to use during breaks (which needs to be clean/where food cannot be contaminated); a means of heating food or water for hot drinks and washing facilities.
SafeWorkers - 30-Sep-16 @ 11:52 AM
I am a deputy manager of a care home and staff on a six hour shift bring food in and like to put it in our fridge . The cook does not want it in the fridge do we have a legal requirement to provide a refrigerated area for staff in a six hour shift .
Tamz - 29-Sep-16 @ 1:01 PM
I work in a garden centre cafe and have been told i have to have a food hygiene certificate,,,but my boss says he wont pay so i have to ,,,where do i stand as i dont feel i should have to ty
blue - 19-Jul-16 @ 9:39 PM
Hi, I am a Front Of House Superviser in our local theatre which provides food to the general public. I hold a Level 2 Award in food Safety in catering. Our Bar/Catering Manager is leaving next week and not being replaced for a while, therefore i was wondering because i am a Superviser and hold a certificate would i be held responsible if anything went wrong. Some of the other members of staff also hold the same certificate as me but because of my title would it fall on me. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks
Can - 23-Jun-16 @ 4:48 PM
I work as a Domestic assistant doing cleaning etc in a residential care home for the elderly with Dementia.I have been told that I am expected to serve food and drinks to the residents at breakfast to help the care workers out.I don't have a food hygiene certificate and am wondering whether this is required under UK law to do what I have been asked to do.
Monty - 31-May-16 @ 12:33 PM
I work for a catering agency and some of the placements do not practice all food safety guidelines. I am expected to do the same. For instance, hot food covered with cling film and left out with no temperature controls and no particular time frame for later consumption. What are my responsibilities in instances like this.
Paz - 30-May-16 @ 10:42 AM
jr - Your Question:
Can I be punished for refusing to server rare ground beef to a customer

Our Response:
This will depend to a certain extent on how your chef wants to serve his/her food and whether the company has any policies in place about this. In general the advice from the Food Standards Agency is as follows: "Some restaurants offer rare or medium rare burgers as an option. There are no rules against this but these food businesses should be able to demonstrate that they have the necessary additional controls in place to allow them to prepare and serve the burgers safely. The FSA is currently exploring the potential for precautionary labelling with caterers."
SafeWorkers - 10-May-16 @ 11:30 AM
can I be punished for refusing to server rare ground beef to a customer
jr - 7-May-16 @ 4:08 PM
Hi, my boss was not being legitimate. He was supposed to have a baking licence which he didn't have. We were supposed to have an extractor fan, and record fridge temperatures, ect. He never done his invoices and would buy things with cash and pay my wages in cash to avoid tax. There are so many thing he wasn't doing right to mention here let a lone his inappropriate behaviour towards me! Who should I report him to?
mez - 28-Apr-16 @ 11:35 PM
Ive be told I have to by law wear a snood even though I have only got a small goatee beard and moustache The ladies who work with me have more hair protruding from under their hats than I ever have on my chin im I required still to wear a snood
Mack - 9-Apr-16 @ 11:29 AM
PC group - Your Question:
Hi, I think I might have crohns disease, can I work in a shop which sells food, even if it's just tinned food.PC.

Our Response:
SafeWorkers - 4-Apr-16 @ 2:47 PM
Hi, I think I might have crohns disease, can I work in a shop which sells food, even if it's just tinned food. PC.
PC group - 1-Apr-16 @ 8:18 PM
Is there a concrete EU Regulation laying down the rules on storage of raw and cooked chickens in the same retailer's chiller cabinet? I visited a local store here in France, where both raw and cooked chickens were on sale in the same cabinet, without even a separation bar, let alone storage in separate cabinets.
Poshepoche - 27-Feb-16 @ 5:54 PM
Hey im been forced to work in bar with diarreha, sorry about my english but im portuguese and i dont know the law here, i just left work without manager permission and come home because im feeling unwell! I can lose my job?
Sofia1994 - 6-Jan-16 @ 9:38 PM
Hello I work in the beer Industry and had some time off a few times with the dreaded D&V which put me outta there sick pay... I thought I had to be away from such things as live ales for a upto 48hours is this the case. If you have any information I'll be most grateful thanks Lee
Me lee - 13-Dec-15 @ 5:04 PM
I work in bteakfast club in a school serving cereals. Do I really have to wear a hairnet?
really? - 8-Dec-15 @ 6:58 AM
I work in supermarket in the bakery had diarrhoea and was wondering how long or legally do I have to take off
Cutiesue - 22-Nov-15 @ 5:39 AM
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