Author: Mark Eade
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.