Darrin Sinclair, Education Manager at RSPH, considers the impact of the changes afoot in food safety regulation.
Earlier this year the Food Standards Agency (FSA) – the body responsible for ensuring all our food businesses are serving us food that is safe to eat – published a plan (Regulating our future) to modernise and reform the way it regulates food businesses across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
Following an 18-month debate on the issue, it announced plans to move away from what is viewed as an outdated 'one size fits all' model for regulating businesses, towards a more flexible and dynamic approach.
Nowadays the food industry includes a much greater diversity of businesses, and along with the increasing presence of private auditors and independent food safety certification schemes, this presents us with a much greater diversity of food safety risk. But the current system does not allow the FSA to focus its efforts efficiently according to the relative risks – the new model aims to make this possible.
For example, many businesses already spend a great deal on private assurance schemes, some of which are already meeting FSA standards. By recognising this evidence as a starting point for food safety assurance, this can both reduce the administrative burden on the businesses in question and free up resources for local authorities to concentrate more on high risk food businesses.
In practice, this means that low risk businesses that demonstrate sustained compliance could have fewer inspections, whereas high risk businesses will be inspected more frequently. The plan also suggests the use of Certified Regulatory Auditors (CRA) from the private sector, with the aim of expanding assurance capacity within the new FSA model.
With Brexit on the horizon, and the regulatory environment set to change in ways that can’t yet be predicted, such a flexible approach to food safety assurance will be vital as we move into the next decade. However, it’s important that these changes do not allow any elements within the food industry to slip into de-facto self-regulation: the relevant private assurance schemes and auditors must themselves be judged thoroughly against FSA standards.
Another key development is the plan to make the display of Food Hygiene Ratings mandatory for food businesses in England. Known to many in the public as the 'scores on the doors', this scheme empowers consumers to choose the healthiest options for themselves, and is already highly effective in driving better business behaviour.
'Scores on the doors' is already mandatory in both Wales and Northern Ireland, and at RSPH, we’re really pleased to see concrete plans to extend legislation to England as well.
Food businesses which can demonstrate they have well trained staff in respect of food safety, and have good food safety management procedures, should welcome the diversion of attention onto those businesses whose staff are not so well trained and pose a greater risk to food safety.
RSPH will continue to support food businesses by providing qualifications that will ensure their staff maintain a high standard of food safety.