Keeping it clean

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Related tags: Food safety, Local authority, Environmental health officer

Are you aware of your food safety obligations?by David Clifton, one of thePublican.com's team of legal experts from London solicitors Joelson...

Are you aware of your food safety obligations?

by David Clifton, one of thePublican.com's team of legal experts from London solicitors Joelson Wilson

All premises which sell food and drink should be aware of issues relating to food safety and hygiene.

Under the terms of the Food Safety Act all premises which sell food must be registered with their local authority. "Food" is a generic term which covers a vast amount of items, including non-alcoholic drinks, intoxicating liquor, crisps and peanuts.

Once premises are registered the local authority is obliged to carry out inspections. The Environmental Health Officer (EHO) from the local authority who carries out the inspection has the right to enter the premises at any reasonable time to ascertain whether there has been any contravention of the food laws. The lower the risk the less frequent the inspections.

For example, a pub selling only crisps and peanuts will be of a lower risk than a pub with a fully-functioning restaurant with 60 covers.

As a rough guide, premises which are classed as high risk can expect to be inspected once a year at the bare minimum with medium risk premises every two years.

However, officers can also carry out one-off visits. These arise when, for example, a complaint has been received from a member of the public.

Inspections cover such issues as food labelling and the quality of the food. It is an offence to sell food which is "injurious to health or food that is unfit for human consumption or is contaminated". This includes food which is past its use-by-date.

The officer has the power to close down premises with immediate effect. Alternatively, he can issue an enforcement notice requiring certain works to be carried out within a minimum period.

Any inspection will also normally include a review of the hazards analysis system. This system must be in place to ensure that appropriate standards of food hygiene are being met at every step, from delivery of the food, storage and cooking, to service.

The hazard analysis system will be unique to each premises as it depends on the size of the business and the risks to the food which exist in those premises. It is recommended that the system is set out in writing.

The hazard analysis system should also refer to the staff training in place, including appropriate refresher courses.

It is very important that the hazard analysis system is kept up to date. If the local authority decides to prosecute for a breach of the legislation, a defence of due diligence may be available if it can be shown that an appropriate system was in place and that it was followed by staff at every stage.

Always remember that EHOs are also there to offer help and advice in relation to these matters. If you have not already done so, ask your local authority to let you have a range of the leaflets available covering the issues I have referred to in this article.

Recent news articles about food safety and hygiene issues:

Guide to help licensees cope with safety laws launched (18 February 2002)

Multi-million pound blitz on poor pub food hygiene (13 February 2002)

Recent feature articles about food safety and hygiene issues, taken from the Your Business area of the site:

  • Safe food storage- Storage is one of the most likely places for food contamination to occur - and environmental health officers will pay close attention to the way food is kept. We report.
  • Safe food handling- Although figures show that pub caterers seem to be understanding the need for higher food hygiene standards, the Food Safety Agency says there is still some work to be done. We investigate.
  • Also, take a look at our guide on How to cope with a visit from the Environmental Health Officer.

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