Food hygiene regulations introduced last year force caterers to identify and control food-safety risks, rather than merely comply with detailed regulations. Paul Burnley offers some advice to following them.
Food hygiene regulations, implementing the Food Hygiene Directive, were introduced last year and focus more strongly on how to identify and control food safety risks at each stage of the process of preparing and selling food.
The Food Safety (General Food Hygiene) Regulations 1995, which came into force on 15 September, replace previous laws and contain aspects of the EC directives. Contained within them are subtle but important changes in the nature of the regulations and the way in which they are enforced.
The new aspects of the regulations involve hazard analysis and food hygiene training, putting the onus on the caterer or hotelier to identify the risks and deal with them rather than complying with detailed regulations which often have had little direct relevance to food safety.
As with the previous regulations, all hoteliers or caterers are under legal obligation to ensure their business is carried out in a hygienic way.
With the new requirements, each caterer or hotelier assesses the risk to food safety and then applies the relevant controls.
The Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) system has been in place for some years. The exact system does not have to be followed in every circumstance, but a system must be in place to assess the risks and then apply the relevant controls.
The schedule to the regulations sets out specific requirements of cleanliness, repair and construction of food premises, food rooms, transport, and equipment; how to deal with food waste and other refuse; the standard of water supply used and personal hygiene of staff.
Some of the requirements for the structure and equipment of food premises are followed by the words "where appropriate" or "where necessary". Undoubtedly, this will be the cause of some disagreement between the proprietor and the enforcement officer depending on the size and nature of the business concerned.
A hygiene training obligation is contained in the regulations, but it allows businesses to continue to choose a method of training best-suited to the needs of their staff. There is still no requirement for the comprehensive training of food-handlers, and no standards of required knowledge have been set.
There is a new requirement for infected food-handlers, or those who suspect they may be infected, to report this to the proprietor of the business. If necessary, the handler will not work until he or she is no longer infectious. Here, as well as being the responsibility of the employer, the employee has a legal responsibility to follow this rule. Whether or not the food authorities would prosecute an individual employee for having an undisclosed bug rather than prosecute the food business itself is, of course, another argument.
Raw materials or ingredients must not be accepted by a food business if they are known to be or might reasonably be expected to be contaminated, or which after normal preparation would still be unfit for consumption. A food business is criminally liable if it stores such materials or ingredients in inappropriate conditions or where they may be contaminated.
A voluntary guide, the Catering Industry Guide to Good Hygiene Practice, has been developed, providing a useful, practical tool for the catering industry. The Government's Code of Practice requires food authorities to give due consideration to this. It will be referred to by local enforcement officers.
For once, the food safety regulations are written in plain English and are clear to follow. The regulations, together with the Code of Practice - revised to include advice on enforcement of the new requirements - and the guide, is a well-spent £11.65. The three documents represent the basic food hygiene requirements and the way in which they will be enforced by the food authorities.
Smaller hotels and caterers are likely to have difficulty in carrying out the necessary hazard analysis. Already several appropriately qualified consultants are marketing their services.
Those at the receiving end of this expert advice should bear in mind the Catering Industry Guide to Good Hygiene Practice already provides most of the information required.
Paul Burnley is a partner with national law firm Eversheds and can be contacted on 0113-243 0391