Food Safety & Hygiene – Understanding The Food Safety Act 1990

Food safety and hygiene is essential to any consumer and so should be a priority for any food business. Understanding the obligations of the business and employees under the Food Safety Act (1990) and other food hygiene laws is essential.

The Food Safety Act

The main piece of legislation surrounding food standards is the Food Safety Act. Failure to meet the requirements of this important food hygiene law can have severe consequences both in terms of legal action and the health of consumers.

Consumers want to be assured that the food they buy and eat is: –

  • What it is labelled to be (For example doesn’t contain pork if it is labelled as beef).
  • Will not harm them once eaten.

UK Food Safety Laws – Regulations for Serving Food to the Public

In order to protect consumer health, various laws regulate food retailers who serve food to the public. 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 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.

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 Law

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 Food Hygiene Principles: HACCP

The seven HACCP 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. Lay out 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)


The Principles of HACCP require you to carry out a review of your business and identify potential ‘hazards’ and things that could go wrong. These are referred to as ‘critical control points’.

Once your food safety hazards have been identified, you need to focus on these specific areas in particular. You should implement procedures that will prevent or reduce the possibilities of things going wrong in these key areas. Your HACCP plan should also include what action you would take if things do go awry.

The 4 C’s of Food Safety

All the basic principles of food safety hinge on the 4 C’s of food safety. These are cooking cross-contamination, cleaning, cooking, and chilling.

By following simple procedures to make sure the 4 C’s are properly attended to, food safety can be ensured within your premises. Our detailed guide on what the 4 C’s of food safety are will help you understand how to apply them within your business.

The World Health Organisation On Food Hazards

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.

Examples of Food Safety Hazards

Food safety Hazards can be related to many different areas when it comes to food manufacture and preparation. They could also be microbiological in nature.

For example:-

  • Where bacteria could get into food, such as if it is has not been stored correctly.
  • Chemicals getting into food, such as products used for cleaning.
  • Physical in nature like foreign bodies such as insects, parts of packaging or broken glass getting into food.

It’s important to remember that it may not necessarily be your direct fault that such hazards might occur. It could possibly be as a result of negligence on the part of suppliers to your business.

However you as the food manufacturer or catering business are responsible for managing these hazards from taking delivery right up to the point of service.

Ensuring Food Hygiene Law Compliance & Qualifications

In the first instance, it’s for the owners of a food retail business to ensure compliance with 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.

All food handlers must be given an allergen awareness training course – this is vital to ensure compliance with the law.

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.

Most Important Areas of Food Safety

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 make sure that you consider each area and adopt the right measures to address these hazards.

The laws as detailed above are quite basic, and so it is up to you to manage 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.

These points are not part of the law, but are considered best practice by many in the industry.

1) Food Poisoning

Symptoms of food poisoning include vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach cramps. Foods particularly vulnerable to contamination, include raw meat, pre-cooked sliced meats and 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 happen anything from a few hours after 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.

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 makes sure food will not be contaminated by clothes that have been worn in the outside world, and protects clothes underneath from oil and fat stains. Long sleeves will also protect the worker’s skin 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 “visible” 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 gone 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.

Make sure you rotate your stock and do not use food after 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 or smells off, do not be tempted to serve it even if it is within its “use by” date.

4) Temperature Control

There are 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 around 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 make sure that bacteria are killed. However there are exceptions. Pork and chicken should be cooked to approximately 75ºC (as a core temperature) to make sure 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.

Food Safety Law FAQ’s

Our easy to understand answers to commonly asked questions about food safety laws in the UK!

Is it illegal to work with food when sick?

The food standards agency guidelines recommend that people do not work with food when sick and suffering with gastrointestinal symptoms such as sickness and diarrhea. Working with food, or being in food handling areas should not resume until 48 hours after the symptoms pass.

14 thoughts on “Food Safety & Hygiene – Understanding The Food Safety Act 1990

  1. Emily says:

    Hi, I am starting a business selling personalised cookies to make a bit of money on the side of sixth form selling to friends and family. Do I need to be EHO checked for this?

  2. Paul says:

    I have just been to very well named restaraunt in Newcastle with my wife we were having a beautiful meal until I looked on my fork and there was a full used naked skin coloured plaster on my fork . One of the managers actually seen me seeing what I seen and I was ill within seconds of this happening . I was spewing up at what had happened the thought of someone’s bloody plaster in my food. My wife was shocked and so were other customers nearby. Is it illegal for whoever to not use a blue plaster ??? I have photos and I’m awaiting the head of the company to ring me ..

  3. treacle says:

    Hi What is the requirement for hot water in a kitchen environment? Two sinks have hot water however the sink where the dishes etc freezing cold water comes from the hose which can’t remove certain food particles even though they are feed through the steriliser plates come out not clean. Obviously, working in this situation makes your hands very cold even with rubber gloves .

  4. Becky says:

    Can my 14 year old son gain an online level 2 certificate in food hygiene. He comes to work with me in my cafe and I was wondering what the legal requirements are

  5. JUH says:

    Hi, Our company has told us we must wear hair nets all the time including when we go to the toilet, tea breaks even though they are not all paid and smoke areas. this will mean some people wearing them constantly for up to 12 hours. can this procedure be legally enforced ?

  6. Nicknack says:

    I work a lone in a cafe, I have level 3 as I tutor young people with additional needs. Staying within the cafe premises, when coming out of the kitchen to go to a customer with or without out food, do you need to take your apron off?

  7. Hannah says:

    Hi so I work in a small family run cafe, the kitchen gets really hot and stuffy when we are serving throughout the day, we only have 1 fan in the kitchen and when you look at the fan you can see how much dust has gathered on the outside (I try to clean it as best I can but it always comes back so quicky) due to the fact the inside is filled with dust and dirt and looking at it makes me feel sick. The issue has been pointed out to the owners but they make no effort to buy us a new fan for the kitchen and tell us to take the fan apart and clean it ourselves.. considering the amount of dust inside I feel it should be binned and not used in a kitchen Incase dust is contaminating the food? I can’t take it apart I have no idea how to and I don’t feel i would even be able to clean it to a safe level! I’m not sure what to do, the owners don’t take me seriously when I point out things that concern me. Once I pass my driving test I will be looking for a different job, I’m staying here at the moment because it’s easy for me but I am really concerned about this hygiene issue:/

  8. Patie says:

    I have a question .One member of my staff keeps on singing whilist preparing food,sometimes even carving meat.The head chef has asked him to stop doing it as she is spreading germs in the food but she continous doing.What can we do and is it agaianist law?

  9. Pol says:

    Hi, In the next half term at our primary school we are holding a school fete. A parent has enquired about making and selling some homemade food on one of the stalls. Does she need a Food Hygiene Certificate for this? Can the school be held responsible as she is on our premises? Thanks.

  10. D says:

    Just want to ask is it against the law to have a normal drink such as soda, cup of tea while working in a hot bust kitchen? (not alchoholic obviously)

  11. Cortana95 says:

    Hi I’ve worked in a cafe/restaurant for some time now and I’ve become aware that the hygiene standards and the condition of the premises are quite poor with no improvement to be seen. Its only me and the owners and sometimes I’m alone for long periods of time, at times for days. I try to do my best with cleaning but I can’t do much on my own or with the equipment I have and also with customers always coming and the owners threatening to fire me if I don’t serve them well promptly. Food wise I prepare with utmost caution and always up to standard. I’ve noticed that an inspection is soon due and I’m worried as to what will happen to me when they find the premises as they are when its not my fault. I know that probably the answer is gonna be to fire myself but I’m not from this country, I’ve not been here long and I’ve got children so I don’t want to lose my job as with things being as they are it’ll probably be very hard to find another quickly. Thank You

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