Food Safety and the Law

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.

Last Updated on 25 May 2021

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