FOOD hygiene regulations were proposed this week which will put into forcelong-awaited rules on staff training and bring the principle of hazard analysis into UK law.
The Food Safety (General Food Hygiene) Regulations 1994 will implement the EC General Food Hygiene directive, which was adopted last year and which sought to replace specific rules with broad objectives.
The proposals on training are in line with the Government's announcement of more than a year ago that employers will decide for themselves how much instruction an individual needs.
Similarly, under the principle of hazard analysis, caterers will be left free from specific rules, but will be expected to show a good awareness of the riskiest parts of the food preparation process and take steps to reduce any hazard to food hygiene.
Rules to disappear include having to keep food covered or screened and at a height of at least 18ins from the floor.
Trade associations such as the British Hospitality Association and Restaurateurs Association of Great Britain will be highly influential, since they will be expected to draw up guidelines for good practice to replace the specific rules of previous legislation.
These guidelines will be voluntary, but environmental health officers (EHOs) will take into account how far a caterer has complied with them.
The DoH has produced a draft template for the guidelines, which trade associations will be expected to draw up in consultation with groups such as the Local Authorities Co-ordinating body on Trading Standards (LACOTS) and consumer bodies.
EHOs, meanwhile, will be given training to deal with the new regulations and will be subject to a revised statutory code of practice, designed to encourage greater co-operation with caterers.
The code states that when giving advice on training, EHOs should not imply that any examination courses are mandatory. It also encourages the spread of the home authority principle under which large companies with multiple establishments can choose one local authority to take responsibility for all its food hygiene advice.
David Edwards, technical director at Oxfordshire-based consultancy the Food Hygiene Bureau, said caterers and EHOs should welcome the regulations with open arms. They would repeal what he termed "outdated anachronistic requirements" and would put an end to "slavish compliance with petty regulations".
He added that flexibility on training was welcome, but warned that caterers should not see it as a licence to leave staff untrained.
"Low-risk activity, such as bar work, may only require instruction and supervision, while unsupervised food preparation would undoubtedly require training equivalent to the Institution of Environmental Health Officers' basic course," he said.
The draft regulations, which have been sent out for consultation to around 450 organisations, are due to be laid before Parliament in July and to come into force next summer, replacing the Food Hygiene (General) Regulations 1970.
They will not affect temperature control rules set out in the Food Hygiene (Amendment) Regulations. The Government is now reviewing the results of a consultation exercise and will make an announcement in the spring.