By James Claughton, 10th July 2023
On 3rd April 2023, the FSA launched a consultation with proposals to update the food and safety hygiene delivery model. The intention behind the proposals is to safeguard the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme and maintain consumer confidence. The consultation ran for 12 weeks (ended on 30th June) and sought views from various bodies including local authorities, local businesses and other key stakeholders on its proposals.
The proposals are intended to increase levels of compliance from food businesses through the modernisation of the food hygiene delivery system. The proposals are designed to allow local authorities to allocate more time on non-compliant or highest risk food businesses.
The FSA sought views on the following four areas:
- “A modernised food hygiene intervention rating scheme, including a decision matrix, to determine the appropriate frequency of food hygiene controls based on the risk posed by a food business establishment
- An updated risk-based approach to the timescales for initial official controls of new food establishments, and for undertaking due official controls
- Increased flexibility as to the methods and techniques of official controls that can be used to risk rate an establishment, including the appropriate use of remote assessment
- Extending the activities that officers, such as Regulatory Support Officers, who do not hold a ‘suitable qualification’ for food hygiene can, if competent, undertake.”
Food hygiene intervention rating scheme
Similar to the current scheme, if introduced, food businesses are to be set a risk profile which will be analysed by ‘inherent risk’ and ‘compliance and confidence in management’ with individual scores to be attributed to both of these. Matters such as ‘food safety culture’ will also be addressed.
The scores would be averaged to provide the overall ‘inherent risk’ and ‘compliance and confidence in management’ score which will inform the local authorities regarding standards. Low scoring business would be automatically subjected to increased controls. Guidance would be provided to assist local authorities in understanding the different aspects of risk.
Risk-based approach to the timescales
The existing system effectively needs an inspection of a new food business establishment to be carried out within 28 days of registration/when the local authority becomes aware that it is operating, (whichever is sooner). It is felt that this inflexible approach risks diverting limited resources from the high risk business to the lower risk. In its place, a risk-based method to the deadlines for carrying out inspections is proposed. Local authorities will have the chance to assess all relevant information to decide the ‘inherent risk’ of a business.
The relevant information will include the information provided when the business is registered, information obtained from the food business operator and intelligence regarding the business such as local knowledge. The decision as to which businesses are an ‘inherent risk’ would be determined by an authorised officer who is “competent to undertake official controls”.
The existing scheme is prescriptive with regards to the methods that can be used by local authorities and centres around the risk of a business. The highest risk businesses are required to be inspected, partially inspected or audited.
The new proposals detail that local authorities can select which official controls are used, provided they are appropriate to the situation. These include:
- An inspection of food at any stage of production, processing and distribution;
- Cleaning and maintenance products and processes;
- An assessment of good manufacturing and good hygiene practices and procedures; and
- Interviews with the food business operator, their staff as well as “any other activity required to identify non-compliance”.
Remote assessments were carried out during the Coronavirus pandemic but local authorities could not ascertain the risk rate of a business without a physical official control. The new proposals suggest ‘remote official controls’ to ensure compliance and to assist during a physical official control. Local authorities will need to decide whether the use of remote official controls is appropriate. Remote official controls could include, phone calls, video calls, desktop examination of documents, consideration of video and photographic evidence, and examination of websites.
After the consultation, feedback will be reviewed and the proposals will be refined for a modernised food health and safety regime, it will then be subject to a six-month pilot and a formal consultation. The pilot scheme is expected to run from January to June 2024, followed by the implementation of the modernised model in 2025/26 after the publication of an amended Food Law Code of Practice.
The consultation provides well-reasoned proposals to allocate resources appropriately and gives discretion to local authorities in ensuring compliance. It is crucial to modernise the system whilst not compromising food safety standards.