Author: Dominic Roe
The term ‘food safety’ is an overarching term that includes factors such as hygiene, allergies and inspections. If your business handles food then you must be compliant with the relevant safety laws. Failure to achieve this can have severe consequences both in terms of consumer health and legal action.
Current food safety legislation in the UK
Retained legislation from the EU has been in place since the UK left the EU on 31 January 2020. This includes the retained General Food Law Regulation (EC) 178/2002, as amended by The General Food Law (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. The legislation applies to all stages of production, processing and distribution of food, with some exceptions.
To place safe food on the market, businesses must ensure:
- Traceability of food
- Appropriate presentation of food
- Suitable food information is provided
- Prompt withdrawal or recall of unsafe food
- Food and feed imported into, and exported from, Great Britain shall comply with food law.
Further retained legislation includes The Food Safety and Hygiene (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 and the General Food Regulations 2004, the latter of which amended the Food Safety Act 1990 to bring it in line with the retained General Food Law Regulation (EC) 178/2022.
The Food Safety Act 1990
The main responsibilities for all food businesses covered by the Food Safety Act 1990 (and subsequent amends to the legislation) are:
- Ensure that nothing is included or removed from food, or used to treat food, which would be damaging to the health of the people who will eat it
- Ensure that food served or sold is of the nature, substance and quality demanded by consumers
- Ensure that all food is labelled, advertised and presented in a way that is not misleading
It is important to note that the term ‘food’ in this sense also includes drinks.
The key offences of the act are:
- Rendering food injurious to health (e.g. selling ‘gluten-free’ food that contains gluten)
- Selling food which is not of the nature or quality demanded (e.g. selling chicken nuggets made with chicken fat instead of the meat)
- Describing or presenting food in a false or misleading way (e.g. selling horsemeat mince labelled as beef mince)
Committing an offence under the Act can have serious consequences for a business but also for the individual(s) at fault. For offences 1 and 2 above, there is a fine of up to £20,000 for each offence, or each time one of those offences is committed. For offence 3, there is a fine of up to £5,000. Committing any of the three offences can also result in up to 6 months’ imprisonment.
The Food Safety Act 1990 and regulations also place an obligation on businesses to ensure that their activities are carried out in a hygienic way.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has identified more 150 pieces of legislation on food and feed safety and standards in England and Wales.1
What will the Brexit Freedoms Bill mean for food safety legislation?
On 22 September 2022, the UK government introduced the Brexit Freedoms Bill, under which all EU legislation will be amended, repealed, or replaced.1
As it currently stands, EU regulations and tertiary legislation relating to food and nutrition are retained as UK law under the powers contained within the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
The Brexit Freedoms Bill will enable the government to overhaul all retained EU laws for food safety, allowing the UK to create its own approach to this legislation. It will ‘sunset’ any remaining laws at the end of 2023, meaning they will automatically be repealed unless a decision has been made to extend, preserve or replace them.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has so far identified more than 150 pieces of law on food and feed safety and standards in England and Wales.2 Many of these are intertwined with UK legislation on food, and legislation held by other government departments, and so the review process will be a huge task.
The FSA is clear that ensuring food is safe—and is what it claims to be—will remain the number one priority.
What can businesses do to prepare for legislation changes?
While is difficult to predict what the exact changes will be to the UK’s food safety legislation between now and 31 December 2023, there are things that hospitality businesses can be doing now to ensure a proactive approach to risk management. These include:
- Carry out regular food safety audits: Regular audits are crucial to maintaining food safety standards, especially when legislation is changing. To help you fulfil your food safety responsibilities, it can be helpful to create a food safety checklist and conduct a workplace audit which should include looking at preparation of food, food labelling, personal hygiene, use of PPE, and the storage of food.
- Re-visit the current legislation and prepare for the changes: Ensure the relevant people in your business are familiar with the current food safety legislation, and that your checklists remain up to date. Appoint a designated person or people to manage the implementation of the changes when they are announced so that you are well prepared to embed them into your food safety culture.
- Partner with a risk management specialist: An insurance broker with expertise in your sector can help ensure you are achieving compliance with existing regulation and keep you informed of the changes as and when they happen. At Gallagher we can assist you through a wide range of risk management services, including our online risk and regulations management toolkit.