A new scheme to ensure that local regulation of food hygiene is consistent at a national level has taken effect from 1 October, as new Primary Authority legislation comes into force.
Primary Authority enables businesses to form a statutory partnership with one local authority, which then provides "robust and reliable" advice for other local regulators to follow when carrying out inspections or addressing non-compliance.
The British Hospitality Association (BHA) has created a partnership with Cornwall Council, which is Primary Authority for the catering sector, and together they have devised the first countrywide catering hygiene advice and protection scheme.
The new scheme means that BHA member businesses who opt in and are following the Catering Guide can be assured that they will be held to one consistent hygiene standard. The guide is recognised by the Food Standards Agency and is included in all BHA membership packages from 1 October.
The BHA said that inspection regimes and official advice varies between England's 326 local authorities, which can lead to businesses facing reputational risk from a poor food hygiene rating. Such a drop of rating can cause trade to fall by 20 to 50%, costing businesses thousands of pounds.
Examples of contradictory advice given by Environmental Health Officers (EHO) and reasons businesses have been marked down include:
- That purple chopping boards must be used when preparing allergenic foods
- That food must be cooled to below 8ºC in 90 minutes
- That food handlers must legally receive 6 hours of level two hygiene training
None of this advice is correct in all circumstances, the BHA asserted, and businesses following the its Catering Guide will be able to rely on the agreed levels required for compliance in the guide and the support of Cornwall Council if challenged by an EHO.
Speaking about the new scheme, Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive of the BHA said: "These changes to Primary Authority will benefit hospitality and catering businesses who are currently subject to environmental health regimes which can vary between each of the 326 enforcement authorities in England. Businesses will now be able to opt-in easily to a scheme providing them with assured advice, coordinated by their relevant trade body, for catering for example, the British Hospitality Association in partnership with Cornwall Council as the Primary Authority.
"The BHA's Catering Guide is the definitive guide for hospitality industry, assured by Cornwall Council. If a member follows this advice, they have the assurance that other local authorities must take this into account in their dealings with the business. This will promote consistency and fairness of enforcement, reducing burdens on businesses."
Hospitality businesses that are already members of the BHA need to opt in via the BHA website in order to access advice and protection under the new scheme. Non-members will need to sign up for membership first before they can join the scheme.
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