Protecting consumers from food safety hazards is a primary concern of the UK government, which is why they introduced appropriate legislation requiring establishments to establish minimum standards.
Despite leaving the EU, the UK government assures the public that their food safety standard and consumer protection remains unchanged. They will remain committed to implementing a robust and effective regulatory regime, which means businesses in the food industry can continue to operate as usual. For most businesses, there will be no changes in how they are regulated and operate. Still, a few changes have been observed lately.
Here are some ways food hygiene in the UK is changing.
Leaving the EU has significant disruptive potential in the UK’s food industry due to labour shortages and increased ingredient sourcing costs that could impact the food supply chain and, eventually, food hygiene. However, the Food Standards Agency has assured the public that the high food and animal welfare standards will not be affected post-Brexit. But food campaigners warned that consumers might be subjected to lower standards and unsafe food products that would promote intensive farming, damage animal welfare, and trigger diseases like superbugs due to antibiotics overuse in farming.
Under the post-Brexit regime, ministers can exercise wide-ranging powers to change the standards on food and agriculture at the stroke of a pen. These will include altering rules on the type of medication allowed on livestock or adjusting the level of pesticides to use. Under the EU, these rules were strictly regulated.
A survey centred on the trade deal with the US revealed that British consumers would not be willing to sacrifice their food standards for the mere purpose of free trade deals. 79% of the respondents stated that they would find lower-quality important from the US, such as those vegetables grown with pesticide and were banned in the EU, unacceptable. Meanwhile, about 80% of the respondents objected to hormone-fed chicken imported to the UK.
Now that we’re in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever for the food sector to continue prioritizing the safety of their customers and staff and ensure that all employees adhere to the government guidance on the prevention and control of Covid-19 infection.
Currently, there’s not yet any evidence that food or food packaging can become a source or vehicle of transmission for the Covid-19 virus. However, to prevent the spread of Covid-19 within the workplace, food businesses must continue implementing effective health and safety procedures and the Covid-19 prevention and control measures. Companies are also urged to apply Food Safety Management Systems (FSMS), which includes proper hygiene practices and the application of HACCP or Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point.
Physical distancing, regular hand washing, and wearing face coverings are some of the basic measures that companies must implement to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the food production and handling industry. Company managers and staff must ensure that these measures are adhered to at all times to minimise the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
In line with the government advice, food businesses must make sure that the risk assessment of their business should address the risks of the spread of the Covid-19 virus. They must apply the government social distancing guidance at all times. Food businesses that are restarting or have made any changes to their business operations must review and update their HACCP where necessary.
When restarting your food business operations, you must review your usual start-up procedures after temporarily shutting down, including employee’s undertaking uptodate food hygiene training. It would be best to consider whether any additional procedures will be required. Your assessment should consider the length of time your business has been out of operation. While reviewing the procedures, consider the cleaning requirements for your business and include an assessment of any pest control.
Another change in UK food hygiene has something to do with the “Natasha’s Law“, which requires businesses to label all pre-packaged foods for direct sale, including a complete list of the ingredients. The 14 major allergens must be highlighted on the list.
This Law was named after Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, a teenager who died after eating a pre-packaged baguette, which did not come with ingredients labelling at that time. All pre-packaged food products are now required to be labelled, including pre-wrapped sandwiches. Fast foods that have already been packed before the customer places the order and supermarket items like meat and cheeses from the deli counter must also be labelled.
Natasha’s Law applies to foods packaged in the same place where they were sold before being ordered. Foods that are pre-packaged somewhere else will now require food ingredients labelling and emphasize the 14 allergens. The Law offers more consistency in the labelling of pre-packed products while giving more protection for people with food intolerances and allergies whenever they purchase “grab and go” foods.
Except in situations that require immediate action, local authorities responsible for enforcing the Law are advised to take an appropriate risk-based approach for any breaches. Furthermore, the FSA advises that authorities handle minor errors with extra guidance and support according to these changes, especially during the early months of implementation.
The Food Standards Agency has long been assisting businesses in preparing for the changes for well over a year, providing them with tools to help them fully understand which products will be covered by this new law. Furthermore, the FSA encourages customers to make their allergies known to food businesses and their staff when ordering food. This has been highlighted in the #speakupforallergies campaign earlier in the year, encouraging young people to be vocal about their allergies when ordering food.
The chief executive of Food Standards Agency has welcomed the change, stating that Natasha’s Law could help to drive down the number of hospital admissions resulting from food allergies, which have seen a significant increase in the east two decades, and to further prevent tragic deaths such as the case of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse.