Who is responsible for food safety?
The Food Standards Agency is an independent government department for England, Wales, and Northern Ireland that protects public health and consumers in the food industry.
The FSA says that, as a food business, you must ensure you have food safety management procedures in place to keep consumers safe and comply with food hygiene and food standards.
But who is responsible for food safety in catering, hospitality and other organisations that sell food? Is it the business owner? Or food handlers, managers, and supervisors on the ground floor? Read on to find out.
Who is responsible for food safety within a food business?
On the surface, the answer is rather simple: the owner or operator of a food business is responsible for food safety.
In reality, however, it’s a little more complicated.
You may have employees who handle food who are also responsible, to some extent, for food safety.
Which means that the owner/operator of a food business must delegate some responsibility for food safety to their employees.
For example, avoiding contamination of food with potentially dangerous allergens can require the cooperation of multiple employees involved in handling food.
Preventing cross-contamination and maintaining food safety in other ways is still, however, the ultimate responsibility of the owner/operator.
You see, although the actions of a food handler directly impact whether a food is contaminated with allergens, and indeed what happens to that food after it is contaminated, it is the responsibility of the owner/operator of the business to ensure their staff are well trained, that they understand how to prevent contamination, and that procedures are in place to help them do so.
To better illustrate, here are 9 key areas of food safety defined by the FSA, and an overview of the responsibilities of the owner/operator of a food business, and of their employees, in each area.
1. Food hygiene
Good food hygiene ensures that food is safe to eat. There are four C’s that can be used to prevent the most common food safety problems:
It’s easy to see that food handlers will need to play a part in each of the four C’s, yet it’s the responsibility of the owner/operator to ensure there are procedures in place and that the procedures are followed.
2. Packaging and labelling
The law dictates what is required from food packaging and labelling (see the Business Companion website for an easy to understand guide on food and drink law). Both protect consumers who should have the correct information to make confident and informed food choices. Whilst the owner/operator may design compliant packaging and labelling, any number of employees may need to understand how and why food products are labelled as they are in order to answer customer questions.
3. Food allergens
To keep customers with food allergies safe, every food business must (1) provide accurate allergen information, and (2) handle and manage food allergens properly in the kitchen. Again, the owner/operator is responsible for making this happen, but will need to co-operation, and possibly the expertise and assistance, of food handlers and other employees.
“New rules will apply to labelling and the way you communicate with customers.”
If you sell prepacked for direct sale foods and drinks, new rules will apply to labelling and the way you communicate with customers when Natasha’s Law comes into force on 1 October 2021.
4. Food additives
This is fairly straightforward. If you use an additive in food and drink, you must only use an approved additive (determined by legislation), and only use it if it is approved for use in that food. The business owner or senior staff are most likely to be responsible for sourcing approved additives, but others may be responsible for ensuring the proper use of additives on a day-to-day basis.
Use of reputable suppliers ensures products have been stored, processed and handled safely. Certain checks must also be performed when food products are delivered.
Traceability rules help keep track of food in the supply chain and mean you can withdraw and recall foods efficiently if necessary. The rules say that you should keep accurate records, specified on the FSA website. Multiple staff members may be involved in this process. It’s up to the food business owner to make sure effective processes are in place and that all staff understand their role properly.
7. Food safety inspections and enforcement
Local authorities are responsible for enforcing food hygiene laws, and authorised officers can inspect your premises at any reasonable time without an appointment. The responsibility of the food business? To make sure its food safety management is adequate to pass an inspection!
8. Product withdrawal and recall
When you know or suspect that food you have supplied is harmful to health, unfit for people to eat or does not meet legal requirements, you will need to withdraw it from sale. The product could be recalled if it has already reached customers, who should be informed that they should return or dispose of the product. Again, there are multiple people involved in this process, but the ultimate responsibility lies with the business owner.
The business owner, or whoever they ask to be responsible for food safety management, must have had suitable training to do so. Plus, any member of staff who handles food, and is responsible for food safety in any way, must be trained in food hygiene and safety, including allergens, before they start work.
Since it can be hard to keep track of staff training in general, as well as in food safety, we recommend keeping a training record for all of your staff. This will help determine gaps in training, when it needs to be updated (there is no hard and fast rule, but we recommend at least every three years), and will also serve as evidence if and when the business is inspected.
“Training is not only essential for the development of food safety skills.”
Incidentally, training is not only essential for the development of food safety skills, it also plays an integral role in keeping staff happy, motivated and willing to adopt food safety practices on a day-to-day basis.
Fizz academy offers level 2, level 3, and occasionally level 4, food safety courses for catering employees, supervisors and managers. The courses will help you learn your role in food safety management–including hygiene, allergens, labelling, and more–so you’re more effective and happier at work.
Want to ensure everyone is up to date with their training? Visit our website for upcoming food safety courses.