Harriet Simmons, from risk management specialist the National Britannia Group, explains the new food safety regulations coming into force in January
John Jones runs a small hotel that includes a very popular restaurant. He has heard that new food safety regulations are coming into force soon and wants to know how they will affect his business.
Under current law, catering businesses are required to produce food that's safe to eat. New regulations to be introduced in January state that proprietors must be able to demonstrate what they have done to ensure they are serving safe food - and have this written down.
The new food hygiene laws mean that all food businesses need to have an HACCP - short for hazard analysis, critical control points - system in place by January. In simple terms, the system means that producers need to understand how, why and where food could become contaminated and then set out to prevent it from happening.
The system was originally designed by NASA to ensure astronauts' food was safely prepared and packaged, and is based on accurate and up-to-date record-keeping. These records show that the system is working and can support a defence of due diligence should a complaint be made against the business.
Due diligence is the main legal defence endorsed by the Food Safety Act 1990. It provides the best protection to companies that need to demonstrate in court that all reasonable precautions have been taken to avoid the sale of unsafe food.
The first step for food manufacturers developing an HACCP system is to set up a team who need to be adequately trained in HACCP principles and their application. This team will also decide who should be responsible for implementing it.
The next stage is to carefully identify each step in the preparation of each dish, starting with the purchase of the ingredients and ending with sale to the customer, and to formulate these steps into a flow chart.
Each step then needs to be carefully analysed to identify what could go wrong to result in a safety hazard to the customer. Such hazards include bacteria, foreign bodies and chemical contaminants.
Also, where vegetarian or allergen-free food is prepared alongside other food, a risk assessment to identify, segregate or manage any allergens or ingredients that could cause harm or dissatisfaction to customers is important.
Identifying what can be done to control potential hazards is the next step. Controls may include separation of raw and cooked foods to avoid cross-contamination, personal hygiene rules to avoid contamination by bacteria and correct cooking times and temperatures to avoid the survival of harmful bacteria.
The company will be required to consider whether or not the customer will be harmed if nothing is done at the step where you have identified a potential hazard, and that will dictate which steps are critical control points.
The next stage is to set standards, or critical limits, for the controls. These will specify the conditions which must be met to ensure that the food will be safe. Checks should be carried out at pre-determined times and records kept to show that the controls are working.
If monitoring shows that critical limits are not being met, a designated person must take - and record - corrective action.
Whenever there is a recipe change, an addition to the menu, a new activity is introduced or the structure of the kitchen changes, the HACCP system must be reviewed. Even if no changes take place, a review of the HACCP system should take place at least once a year.
- Decide who will develop your HACCP system.
- Draw a flow chart of your food preparation processes.
- Identify where food safety hazards can occur.
- Identify what can be done to control hazards.
- Identify corrective action when monitoring shows that controls aren't working.
- Review the HACCP system after a year.
- Keep all documentation and records.
Establishments in breach of food safety regulations, which includes not having a HACCP system in place by 1 January 2006, face a maximum fine of 20,000 and proprietors could serve up to two years in prison.