Why is Food Safety Important When Preparing and Handling Food?

image showing food safety sign

Any business or organisation that requires its workforce to prepare and handle food must have food safety systems in place to ensure compliance with relevant legislation.

Whether you operate a food production factory, restaurant, takeaway service or public service — such as a school or hospital — where food is prepared and/or served, food safety laws apply to you. Failure to comply can result in serious consequences for your business and the well-being of your customers or service users.

Why is Food Safety Important?

If food is contaminated with germs it can cause food poisoning. While in  most cases, this means a short period of unpleasant symptoms, such as nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting, cramps and a high temperature, it can become serious and in rare cases fatal.

Most severe cases occur in vulnerable groups of people, for example very young children or the elderly. Serious illness and health complications are generally caused by the extreme dehydration that can result from diarrhoea and vomiting if these symptoms are left untreated.

A bad case of food poisoning resulting from foods served or produced at your premises can be severely damaging to the reputation of your business. It may also lead to legal action and financial consequences (lost business, fines, compensation claims etc.).

Food safety laws exist to keep people safe by providing guidance on how to identify and eradicate or control the risk of food poisoning. The legislation also bestows powers of prosecution on key government agencies to ensure that employers are held accountable for the safety of their workforce, consumers and service users.

What are the Key Pieces of Food Safety Legislation in the UK?

UK Food safety law applies to all stages of the production, processing and distribution of food. It is beyond the scope of this blog to provide a detailed review of every piece of legislation that is relevant to food safety and food hygiene, but we have highlighted the key piece of legislation for your reference. If you’d like further guidance on what these laws mean for your business and how to achieve compliance, ask about our Register of Health and Safety Legislation Service.

Food Standards Act 1999 — established the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to assume responsibility for food safety and hygiene in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The act confers the necessary authority and power to allow the FSA to monitor standards and compliance. It is also responsible for the food labelling policy in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Food Safety Act 1990 (as amended) — this act is the foundation of all food legislation in England, Scotland and Wales. It requires food businesses to meet core safety criteria including not adding or removing anything from food that would make it unsafe to eat, producing food of quality and nature that consumers would expect and, using appropriate labelling and advertising.

The Food Safety Order 1991  — this act only applies to Northern Ireland (N.I) and underpins all food safety and consumer protection regulations. It was enacted to allow N.I to comply with the UK’s responsibilities in the European Union (EU).

EC Regulations 852/2004 of the European Parliament on the Hygiene of Foodstuffs — requires all food operators to implement a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan.

Food Hygiene Regulations (England) 2005 — these implement Council Directive 3/43/EEC. Under these regulations, any food business owner must make sure that food and drink is supplied or sold in a hygienic manner, identify food hazards, know the critical steps in the food production process are critical for safety and ensure that safety controls are in place, maintained and reviewed.

Despite Brexit, most EU Law that relates to food safety and food hygiene will be retained in UK law. Although it is advisable to check with UK Exit Legislation.

image showing food safety act 1990 and key interpretationHow Can I Achieve Compliance?

Food poisoning can be caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites or toxins and chemicals. The most common causes are:

  • Campylobacter bacteria
  • Salmonella bacteria
  • E.coli bacteria
  • norovirus

Food typically becomes contaminated by these bacteria because food:

  • Is inadequately cooked or reheated
  • Is incorrectly stored
  • Is left exposed to the air for too long
  • Is handled by someone who is ill or has not washed their hands thoroughly
  • Is eaten after is “use by” date

By implementing robust systems for managing food hygiene and safety procedures in the workplace, for example, by using a HACCP plan, you can effectively control hazards and reduce the risk of contamination and illness.

Compliance with food safety law begins with conducting thorough risk assessments of every area of your business where food is handled, prepared or served. You will also need to get to grips with the legislation that is relevant to your business. Every workplace is different. You must carefully assess and understand the unique needs of your business, its staff and its customers.

Another crucial step towards compliance with food safety laws is circulating information and training staff in safe working practices.

What Happens if I Breach Food Safety Laws?

The government has the authority to inspect your premises at any time they choose and they often do so without prior warning. How often your business is inspected depends on the level of risk it presents to the public.

After a food inspection, you will receive a letter that details any improvements you must make to achieve legal compliance. If there are significant gaps in the food safety provisions in place, you may be sent a “Hygiene Improvement Notice” or a “Hygiene Emergency Prohibition Notice”. The latter will forbid the use of certain equipment or ban you from continuing particular activities until you can demonstrate that improvements have been implemented and that you are now operating in compliance with safety laws.

If a business is found to be in violation of food safety laws and fails to make the recommended improvements within the time specified, the matter may be taken to court and the business could receive a hefty fine. A restaurant in Henley was recently fined more than £22,000 for breaking food health and safety laws. Violations included using the same knives for raw and cooked food, inadequate handwashing facilities and poor cleanliness in food preparation areas.

In addition to the potential cost of legal action by the government, if someone is harmed as a result of non-compliance, for example, a customer contracts severe food poisoning from eating contaminated foods, they may submit a personal injury claim for compensation.

As well as the financial impact of non-compliance, the damage to a businesses reputation can be catastrophic and sometimes impossible to recover from.

How We Can Help?

Understanding the law as it relates to your business and providing adequate and appropriate staff training is a key element of food safety law compliance. There is no legal requirement to attend a formal training course, but this is often the best way for a business to ensure that its people have the skills and knowledge necessary to handle and prepare food safely.

All new employees should receive food safety training. It is also good practice to attend a refresher course every three years to ensure that staff knowledge is up-to-date and relevant. Some employers may require their staff to renew their training and certificates annually.

Howlett Health and Safety Services offer four online food safety courses — Food Hygiene and Safety one, two and three, and an Introduction to HACCP Level 2 Training. We offer a discount to employers booking for large groups. Every participant will be awarded a certificate upon completion of the course. Contact us today to find out more and request a quote.



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