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Temperature control

28 April 2005
Temperature control

Food which is susceptible to the bacteria, toxins and viruses that can cause food poisoning needs to be stored at the correct temperature.

The Food Safety (Temperature Control) Regulations 1995 ("Regulations") require potentially dangerous foods to be held at or below 8ºC or above 63ºC. Certain deviations from this are allowed for practical considerations relating to, for example, processing or handling food as long as food safety is not put at risk.

The Regulations do not list specific foods which need to be held under temperature control conditions and the onus is placed on the food businesses to decide for themselves which foods should be held under temperature control. The foods which most commonly cause illness are listed in document HS3016k.doc on hazardous foods.

Certain food businesses are exempt from the Regulations if:

• they are primary producers (for example, harvesters, slaughtermen or milkers)
• they are more specifically regulated by sectoral regulations e.g. the Food Safety (Fishery Products and Live Shellfish) Hygiene Regulations 1998.

Risk controls

Under the Food Safety (General Food Hygiene) Regulations 1995, food businesses are required to identify "food hazards" and ensure that controls are in place to eliminate or minimise risks to consumers.

These systems have an important part to play in helping to ensure that food is produced and stored safely.

Businesses should understand which foods need to be chilled and controlled and appreciate the consequences of non-compliance. Monitoring storage temperatures and formally logging them may be helpful in ensuring food safety. Although logging is not a specific legal requirement, it may help some food businesses to control food hazards.

Chilled food

Under Regulation 4 of the Food Safety (Temperature Control) Regulations 1995 ("the chill holding requirements"), no commercial operation or food business can keep foods above 8ºC which:

• are likely to support the growth of pathogenic micro organisms (the bacteria, toxins and viruses that can cause poisoning)
• will allow the formation of toxins.

The temperature refers to the food, not the air in the storage facility.

A code of practice lists some examples for general guidance. There are general exemptions from these chill holding requirements, but these place the emphasis on food safety and generally, there must be no risk to health in storing the food above 8ºC. Examples of exempted foods include food that requires ripening at temperatures over 8ºC and food that is part of a mail order transaction.

Another stipulation of the chill holding requirements is that food must be cooled as quickly as possible after the final heat processing stage if cooked, or the final preparation stage if not cooked.

Heated food

Regulation 8 of the Food Safety (Temperature Control) Regulations 1995 ("the hot holding requirements") stipulates that no food business can keep food below 63ºC which:

• has been cooked or re-heated;
• is for service or on display for sale; and
• needs to be kept hot to control the growth of pathogenic micro organisms or the formation of toxins.

Any person who contravenes this regulation can be punished by either a fine, imprisonment or both. A defendant must show that the breach of the regulation did not affect the safety of the food.

Minimising risks

Regulation 10 of the Food Safety (Temperature Control) Regulations 1995 provides another requirement for catering businesses in addition to Regulations 4 and 8 described above.

Regulation 10 states that, as a general rule, no catering or food business can keep food at temperatures that are likely to support the growth of the pathogenic micro organisms that can cause food poisoning.

This all-purpose requirement applies to all forms of temperature control. In other words, a person can be guilty of an offence under Regulation 10 but could have complied with the chill and hot holding requirements of Regulations 4 and 8.

Anyone guilty of an offence under Regulation 10 can also be punished with a fine, prison or both.

Enforcement

The regulations on temperature control are enforceable by the relevant food authority and the food premises must be inspected by inspectors regularly. The frequency of visits will be determined by the risk associated with the business. It is advisable for food businesses to adhere to a relevant guide for good hygiene practice as this will be taken into consideration by the relevant food authority.

Roy Tozer is a Partner in the Regulatory Group of DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary UK LLP. roy.tozer@dlapiper.com

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