Food safety

It is said that there are more Indian restaurants in Britain than there are in the whole of India. Whether that is true or not, it is certainly the case that there are more restaurants and other food outlets in this country than there have ever been and all of these food outlets are governed by the various food safety acts passed by Parliament and by the European Union and, most particularly, the regulations made under them.

The Food Standards Act 1999 established the Food Standards Agency which is the government body in charge of protecting the risks to public health from the consumption of food and covers not only food outlets such as cafes and restaurants but also deals with the production of food and so covers abattoirs etc. However, the vast majority of the actual enforcement of the law in relation to food standards falls upon the shoulders of local authorities. Local authorities have teams of inspectors which regularly go out (and also licence) food outlets and when standards are found to be lacking may take enforcement action.

Almost all prosecutions brought in relation to poor food hygiene are brought under the Food Hygiene (England) Regulations 2006. These are extensive regulations which govern, in minute detail, standards which are to be applied in any organisation which deals with food. In the first instance if standards are felt to be lacking it is the usual habit of most local authorities to issue a warning notice rather than to go straight to prosecution. Such warning notices can be issued in a very wide variety of circumstances and when issued effectively set out the matters of complaint and give the person receiving them (the owner of the food business) the opportunity to make good their failings. A local authority may issue more than one warning or set of warnings before finally deciding to prosecute. The decision to prosecute rests with the responsible authority who will, almost invariably, be the local council.

Those persons tasked with investigating food and hygiene standards are entitled to enter premises where food is being prepared in any form and a refusal to allow such person to enter is in itself an offence when the investigator attends any food premises he or she will make a full and detailed note of everything that is found including of course any breaches of the regulations or evidence of poor or unacceptable practice. Depending on what is found the business may either be given a clean bill of health, receive advice, receive a warning letter or be faced with a prosecution for criminal offences.

When prosecutions are brought they are almost invariably brought in relation to a large number of separate and individual breaches of the regulations. It is the usual practice of the prosecutor to detail in a separate charge each and every breach so that it is not unusual for those who are prosecuted to have 10 or 15 separate charges brought against them. Fines levied are accordingly significant and may well exceed £20,000-£30,000. In serious cases, those in charge of businesses may even be sent to prison.

The regulations themselves do not merely stop at detailing ways in which individual breaches may be recorded but also set out an obligation upon the owner and/or manager of the food business to put in place a system of safe working in order to ensure that all members of staff within the organisation work in accordance with procedures to ensure food hygiene and safety, even if a restaurant (for example) premises were found to be utterly spotless with not a single item out of place the absence of such a food safety system will in itself be an offence.

If you are running a business that has any dealings with food you will be affected by the various food acts and regulations and will have a responsibility for ensuring that they are met. If there is any doubt then it is vital that information and advice be sought to ensure that breaches of the regulations are avoided.