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Viewpoint: food safety is everyone's business

08 June 2020 by

Brother UK's Ged Cairns explains how clear and effective food labelling can solve issues around use-by dates and allergen information.

Sunday marked the second annual World Food Safety Day, with the theme "Food safety, everyone's business". Indeed, it is the role of everyone – from producers through to consumers – to ensure that food isn't damaging to our health. But for restaurants, bars, hotels and catering businesses, there's a particular onus to ensure their customers are protected from harmful foods.

In recent years, a brighter-than-usual spotlight has been shone upon food safety as the industry has been forced to face up to high-profile cases involving allergy-related fatalities. These have prompted significant regulatory responses, such as the recent update to the Food Information Regulations 2019, more commonly known as Natasha's Law, which will come into force in England on 1 October 2021.

As food safety is ‘everyone's business', everyone needs to know all there is about how long produce will last safely and what it contains. And this starts with accurate labelling.

Food labelling is essential to consumers' safety; we need to know when it's safe to eat and if it's safe for those with allergies. Unfortunately, in our experience, food labelling is sub-standard in many cases.

According to our desk and market research, around 90% of businesses are still handwriting 'day-dot' labels as part of their stock rotation. This involves manually recording open dates and discard dates on colour-coded labels, with each colour denoting a day of the week to signal when it must be used by.

Naturally, this process is fraught with pitfalls. With hundreds of items to labelled daily, it's easy for mistakes to slip in or handwriting to become illegible. What's more, this can be exacerbated by the sector skills shortage, with staff not always familiar with the correct notations or processes.

An efficient labelling system is key to reducing the human error involved with monitoring food and keeping consumers safe.

Accurate and reliable food labelling is also essential for allergen information. A host of stringent measures and regulations for businesses have been introduced, so that it's clear to consumers which allergens are contained in foods, and it's imperative that these are followed. Businesses could face grave financial and reputational damage if they are complacent and don't stay up to date with regulations.

The liability faced as a result of poor labelling is not worth the risk. This is especially true right now for those restaurants and foodservice companies offering takeaway and delivery options as consumers rely on them in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. They're an extra step in the supply chain that gets food to the consumer, and an extra step that allows for potential confusion to creep in.

Accurate labelling of allergens ensures that clear and correct information is passed consistently through the supply chain from one stage to the next. Clear signposting of what the food contains and what it has been in contact with will pay dividends when it comes to consumer safety, helping build trust and loyalty longer-term.

In short, it's everyone's business to make sure food is labelled reliably. This year's World Food Safety Day will hopefully make it clear that food should be enjoyed with full understanding and without jeopardy – not for businesses, and certainly not for consumers.

Ged Cairns is head of category – Auto-ID and CIV at Brother UK

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