It's the Law - Food Safety Management Systems & HACCP

In January 2006, a new food hygiene regulation act was passed governing the UK and EU, stating that ALL UK Food and Drink businesses must put in place a Food Safety Management System based on HACCP principles, plus keep up-to-date records of its operation.

HACCP, for the uninitiated stands for ‘Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points’ and is an approach to safe food production originally pioneered by NASA during the space race.

What businesses does it cover?

The regulations comprise 'Regulation (EC) No. 852/2004' on the hygiene of foodstuffs, and 'The Food Hygiene (England) Regulations 2006', plus equivalent regulations in Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland.

This legislation simplified and replaced all the previous UK/EU food hygiene legislation, and placed greater emphasis on the use of HACCP and more effective controls throughout the food chain.

Failure to comply with this law can result in fines, temporary and even permanent closure of your food or drink business.  It’s also really about ‘due diligence’; in the event of a customer death from food poisoning from your business (and it happens) you are able to demonstrate that you took ‘all reasonable efforts’ to ensure safe food was being produced.  Having a working Food Safety Management System would show you to have observed due diligence, and should dramatically lower the risks of a serious incident, and save you a corporate manslaughter charge if something still does go wrong.

Do you have a working Food Safety Management System?

So, in essence if you own or manage a food or drink business (including pub, bar, deli, cafe, sandwich shop, or restaurant...), since 2006 you should have been operating a Food Safety Management System (FSMS), and be able to prove it through daily/weekly/monthly records when asked by your Environmental Health Officer.

If you already have a working FSMS based on HACCP principles congratulations, you’re operating within the law and the terms of your licence in the UK.  If not, you need one, but you’re not on your own as the majority of food businesses have not fully implemented a verifiable system.  Why? Until recently it was not being routinely policed by the Environmental Health Officer (EHO) teams. Enforcement in the past has been typically limited to the free guide developed by the government to introduce the idea of an FSMS within a catering business.  This has now been dropped after suggestions that it did not offer sufficient practical advice, knowledge or directed help on the actual implementation of a FSMS, nor did it provide any actual usable documentation or HACCP templates.

The UK enforcement picture – July 2010

Back in 2006 when the new hygiene legislation first applied, the European Commission committed itself to providing a report by May 2009 on uptake in all Member States as regards the progress of the legislation. This report was published in July 2009, indicating that take up has not fully occurred and a more rigorous enforcement (with everything this entails) was required.  Also that (perhaps unsurprisingly) this period had seen a significant increase in food poisoning cases reported by members of the public.

Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) nationally are now specifically tasked with driving the implementation of the legislation, and it’s more than likely that if you’re a food business in the UK that your local EHO will be visiting anytime now and will specifically be asking to see evidence of a working Food Safety Management System incorporating HACCP principles. 

As part of this, the government has recently introduced the Score on the Doors scheme, in effect a name and shame publication of the hygiene performance of ALL food businesses in the UK, awarding a rating between zero and five stars.  Their objective is 100% compliance with the Law and to drive food standards higher using the scores system.

Further links and information from the Food Standard Agency

The Safer Food System

A downloadable Food Safety Management System and online learning package in-one providing everything you need to implement a robust and effective Food Safety Management System incl HACCP principles into a food or drink business.  Find out more on How it works