25th February 2013
As the horsemeat for beef scandal rumbles on, specialist regulatory defence lawyer Andrew Brammer of the Sheffield office of Cartwright King Solicitors recommends the steps that food businesses should consider taking to protect themselves from intrusive investigation, and more importantly to maintain consumer confidence in their products.
The regulation of food safety in England and Wales is governed by a raft of complex national legislation and European directives, but principally through the measures set out in the Food Safety Act 1990. This wide-ranging legislation focuses on three core principles that all food businesses must adhere to:
- Food supplied must not be damaging to health;
- Food supplied must be of the nature, substance or quality expected by consumers;
- Food must not be presented, labelled or advertised in a way that is false or misleading.
These are absolute duties and obligations placed on all parties involved in the food supply-chain from producer to retailer, and all those in between. Failure to comply can result in criminal prosecution, prison and massive reputational damage.
“It is an error to believe that you can simply rely on what you are told by your supplier.”
“Each participant in the process from field to plate must be able to demonstrate that they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent breaches of the duties and obligations required by law. The difficulty is though how do you demonstrate this?”
“In most cases this will be done by adopting a system of risk-based checks to confirm that the food produced, processed or supplied conforms to the three cornerstone principles of the Food Safety Act 1990.”
Andrew recommends that food businesses do the following:
- Make sure that you are an approved food business before you begin operating and so are your suppliers.
- Ensure that all staff receive appropriate and regular training on food safety and handling, relevant to your food business.
- All food businesses are legally obliged to document where food it receives comes from and goes to: this is called Traceability. You need to have available for inspection, up to date documentation that charts the progress of food into and out of your business.
- Make sure that any process you apply to the food is recorded in writing and regularly monitored to ensure that it is fit for purpose.
- Always request from your supplier any information of tests carried out on the food supplied confirming its safety and that it is what you have ordered.
- Adopt a regime of regular testing food so that if you are challenged, you can show why you are satisfied that it is compliant with food safety legislation.
- If you are applying labelling or packaging to food, make sure that what you put on the box matches what is inside. It might sound simple but the current scandal shows how easy it is to be misled and to mislead.
- If you are in any doubt whatsoever about the source or provenance of food brought into your food business then stop the supply until you are satisfied that it is legally compliant.
- Do your research. There is a vast amount of information freely available on the internet and through Local Authority Trading Standards and Environmental Health teams.
Ultimately, it comes down to trust. If you want customers, consumers and regulators to trust your product then you have to be prepared to prove why they should.