Food safety and hygiene
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in the Pink Book of Legislation, we regret that we cannot be responsible for any errors. Read our full disclaimer.
- If you supply food to guests you must comply with the provisions of food safety and hygiene legislation. The word 'food' is defined as including drink.
- You should not provide food that is unsafe (i.e. injurious to health) or unfit for human consumption.
- You must put in place and implement a food safety management system to ensure that the food you provide is safe to eat. These procedures must be based on the Food Safety Standard's Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles.
- You must not keep foods at a temperature that might make them unsafe to eat. There are specified temperatures that different hot or chilled foods must be kept at.
- Registration with the local authority is required for accommodation businesses that serve or supply food or drink of any description, including bed and breakfasts.
Food safety legislation
The most important food safety and hygiene legislation applying in the UK comprises:
- the Food Safety Act 1990, which provides the framework for food legislation, creates offences in relation to safety, quality and labelling
- the General Food Law Regulation (EC) No 178/2002, which creates general principles and requirements of food law
- the Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013, which revoke and re-enact with some minor changes to the Food Hygiene (England) Regulations 2006 and certain provisions of the General Food Regulations.
Does food safety legislation apply to me?
Yes: if you supply food to guests, you must comply with the provisions of the legislation. The word 'food' is defined as including drink.
Main provisions of the legislation
General Food Law Regulation (EC) 178/2002
Regulation (EC) 178/2002 covers the placing of unsafe or unfit food on the market. You should not place food on the market (that is to sell or supply food, or hold it with intent to supply) which is:
- unsafe (i.e. injurious to health)
- unfit for human consumption, e.g. food that is rotten, 'gone off' or has been subject to considerable contamination would be unfit.
The regulation also covers traceability. You should keep records of businesses which have supplied food to you and any businesses you supply food to. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) guidance says this should include:
- address of customer or supplier
- nature and quantity of products
- date of transaction and delivery.
This is to help when a food manufacturer needs to co-ordinate a withdrawal of unsafe food. There are offences for breaches of these provisions in the General Food Regulations 2004 (as amended).
Offences under the Food Safety Act 1990
- Rendering food injurious to health. Not only is it an offence to place food on the market which is harmful to health, it is also an offence to do anything which would make food harmful by adding something to it or removing something from it. This may apply even if you did not realise the effect of what you were doing at the time.
- Selling 'to the purchaser's prejudice' food which is not of the nature, substance or quality demanded. 'To the purchaser’s prejudice' means to his or her disadvantage. This includes things like supplying lemonade when low-calorie lemonade has been requested, or supplying a beef casserole when the customer has ordered lamb casserole.
- Falsely or misleading describing, advertising, or presenting food. This offence can be committed when statements or pictures concerning food are untrue. It can also cover statements that are strictly speaking correct but presented in such a way that the customer is led to the wrong conclusion. Bearing this in mind, you should take care with the descriptions of dishes on your menus. There is a similar provision about this in the General Food Law Regulation.
General food hygiene
Do the regulations apply to me?
Yes: if you are an accommodation provider that supplies food to guests, you must register with your local authority at least 28 days prior to trading and comply with the regulations. It does not matter if you are a small bed and breakfast, a five-star hotel or you provide meals in other circumstances. As a food business operator, the onus is on you to make sure you supply safe food.
If you are not sure whether you should register as a food business, you should speak to your local environmental health department for advice.
How do I comply?
Food safety management procedures
You must put in place and implement a food safety management system to ensure that the food you provide is safe to eat. These procedures must be based on the HACCP principles, although they can be proportionate to the nature and size of the business and should not be burdensome on small businesses. HACCP stands for:
This means that you must:
- analyse all potential food hazards - a hazard is anything that might hurt the consumer
- identify the points in operation where hazards might occur
- decide which of the points identified are critical to ensuring food safety
- identify and implement effective control and monitoring procedures at those critical points
- determine what corrective actions must be taken if your procedures are not working
- keep appropriate records to show your procedures are working
- review all of the above periodically and whenever your food operations change.
The amount of paperwork you will need to keep as part of your safety procedures will also depend on the size and nature of your business. Larger businesses will need to maintain some documented procedures in addition to their records.
The Food Standards Agency offers a number of models to help you comply with the record-keeping part of the procedures (see 'Safer Food, Better Business' in Further guidance below.) You can also contact your local authority for advice.
As a basic requirement, food premises must comply with the following:
- They must be kept clean, be well maintained and designed to enable good hygiene practices to be adhered to.
- They must have adequate hand-washing facilities available, with supplies of hot and cold water, and drying facilities suitably located and designated for cleaning hands. Toilets must not open directly into rooms where food is handled.
- They must must have adequate means of ventilation, lighting and drainage.
What is adequate in any situation will depend on the nature and size of the business. In addition, the following requirements apply to all rooms, except dining areas, in which food is prepared:
- Surface finishes to walls, doors, floors and equipment should be easy to clean and, if necessary, to disinfect.
- There must be adequate facilities for cleaning work tools and equipment and for washing food.
Slightly scaled down, but broadly similar, requirements apply to premises that are only used occasionally for catering purposes.
The full list of requirements are detailed in the Safer food, better business for caterers section of the FSA website.
Premises 'used primarily as a dwelling house but where foods are regularly prepared' (i.e. this might include some bed and breakfasts) are subject to slightly different requirements with regard to the rooms where food is prepared (Regulation (EC) 852/2004 Annex II Chapter III). Speak to the environmental health department of your local authority for guidance.
Equipment: all equipment and other items which come into contact with food must be kept clean and well maintained and installed in such a way as to allow adequate cleaning of the surrounding area.
Food waste: waste must not be allowed to accumulate and, as a general rule, must be kept in closed containers which are easy to clean and disinfect. The waste must be eliminated in a hygienic and environmentally-friendly way and must not constitute a direct or indirect source of contamination.
Water supply: there must be an adequate supply of drinking water. Generally, this water supply should be used to make sure that food is not contaminated and any ice should be made from it.
Cleaning agents: cleaning chemicals must not be stored in areas where food is handled.
Personal hygiene: everyone working with food must maintain a high level of personal cleanliness, including clean clothing. You must not allow anyone suffering from an illness which could contaminate food to work in a food handling area. Additionally, staff working in food handling areas are required to report such illnesses to you. You should also ensure that good hand washing routines are maintained.
Raw materials: you should not buy, or supply, any raw material that will not be fit for human consumption.
Protection against contamination: all food must be protected against any form of contamination, including pests, which would make it fail food safety requirements.
Training: all staff handling food must receive training commensurate or appropriate to the work they do. The Industry Guide to Good Hygiene Practice: Catering Guide (currently being updated) states that:
- high-risk food handlers such as those who prepare high-risk foods, should hold a basic or foundation certificate (level 2)
- a waiter/waitress would require hygiene awareness training (level 1)
- the person responsible for implementing the food hygiene management system must have received adequate training to enable them to do this.
The full list of requirements are detailed in the FSA guide pack Safer Food, better business for caterers.
Food and temperature control
The temperature control rules are found in the Food Hygiene (England) Regulations 2006 (and equivalent legislation in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).
Do the regulations apply to me?
Yes: if you are an accommodation provider that offers food to guests, you must comply with the regulations. Just as with the hygiene regulations, it does not matter what type of premises you are – all food operators as defined need to comply with the temperature requirements.
What are the requirements?
You must not keep foods at a temperature that might make them unsafe to eat. Foods which need temperature control for safety must be held either:
- hot (at or above a minimum temperature of 63ºC) or
- chilled (at or below a maximum temperature of 8ºC)
In addition to this, foods that are likely to support the growth of harmful bacteria or the formation of toxins should not be kept at temperatures which would result in a risk to health.
Some foods are exempt from the 8ºC limit, such as:
- bakery products which are to be used quickly
- most unopened canned foods
- dried foods
- food which is ripening or maturing at room temperature (e.g., soft cheeses)
Serving and display of food
The regulations also have a degree of flexibility in the serving and display of food. For example, food that should normally be kept at or below 8ºC may be kept above that temperature for a single period of four hours to allow it to be served or displayed (e.g. food on a buffet table or a cheese trolley). After this period it should either be thrown away or chilled back to 8ºC or below until used.
Likewise, food which will be served hot may be kept on display out of temperature control (63ºC and above) for a single period of two hours. If any food is left after this time, food should either be discarded, reheated to 63°C or above (in Scotland, food must be reheated to 82° or above), or cooled as quickly as possible to 8°C or below until final consumption. Guidance on temperature control legislation in the UK is available on the FSA website.
Handling ready-to-eat foods safely
It is important to handle ready-to-eat foods carefully as they could, if mishandled, lead to cases of food poisoning. They include sandwiches, salads, desserts, cold cooked meats and foods you have cooked in advance to serve cold. The following controls should prevent this from happening:
- check that the temperature of purchased frozen and chilled ready-to-eat foods is correct (under 8ºC for chilled foods, -18ºC for frozen foods)
- check products are within the date code and that the packaging is not damaged
- do not use products after their 'use by' date
- store ready-to-eat foods separately from raw foods, such as meat, poultry, eggs, etc. Store at the correct temperature and stock rotate
- follow the manufacturer’s instructions on storage and preparation
- wash and dry hands before the preparation of ready-to-eat foods
- use clean knives, utensils, and separate boards for the preparation of ready-to-eat foods
- sanitise boards, surfaces and utensils after use
- keep ready-to-eat foods covered after preparation
- once prepared, do not allow ready-to-eat foods to remain at room temperature for any longer than necessary
- buy a thermometer to monitor temperatures.
Enforcement and food hygiene inspections
Local authorities are responsible for enforcing food hygiene laws and authorised enforcement officers have the right to enter and inspect food premises (registered or not) at any reasonable time without having to make an appointment – they will usually come without notice.
They carry out routine inspections and the frequency varies, depending on the degree of risk posed by the business and its previous record. Inspectors may also visit as a result of a complaint.
Inspectors (i.e. 'authorised officers') will look at the way you operate your business to identify any potential hazards and to make sure that you are complying with the law. They will discuss problems with you and advise on possible solutions. They also have the following powers:
- to take samples and photographs and to inspect your records
- to write to you informally, asking you to rectify any problems that they have found. If a breach of the law has been identified, they may serve you with a 'hygiene improvement notice'
- to detain or seize suspect foods
- to recommend a prosecution (although this is normally done only in serious cases)
- to serve 'a hygiene emergency prohibition notice' which forbids the use of the premises or equipment if there is an imminent health risk to the public. Such a notice must be confirmed by the Courts (or a Sheriff in Scotland).
Further guidance on food hygiene inspections is contained in the publication Food law inspections and your business.
A small percentage of the population is allergic to, or intolerant of, certain foods. In the UK, it is estimated that around 2% of the population suffer from food allergies and each year some people become seriously ill and even die from extreme reactions to foods such as peanuts, shellfish and eggs.
Under the Food Safety Act 1990 and the General Food Law Regulation 178/2002 you are responsible for ensuring that the food that customers eat is safe and the quality is what they expect. This means you should understand exactly what foods can cause problems.
The following is a list of the 14 most common allergens:
- Cereals containing gluten, namely: wheat (such as spelt and khorasan wheat), rye, barley, oats
- Crustaceans, for example prawns, crabs, lobster, crayfish
- Milk (including lactose)
- Nuts; namely almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, pecan nuts, Brazil nuts, pistachio nuts, macadamia (or Queensland) nuts
- Celery (including celeriac)
- Sulphur dioxide/sulphites, where added and at a level above 10mg/kg or 10mg/L in the finished product. This can be used as a preservative in dried fruit.
- Lupin, which includes lupin seeds and flour and can be found in types of bread, pastries and pasta
- Molluscs like mussels, whelks, oysters, snails and squid.
You must be aware of any use of these allergens in the food that you prepare and communicate this use to your customers (see the 'Food labelling' section for more information on your requirement to inform customers of any use of allergens in food you serve customers).
'Scores on the Doors'
There has been a growing trend in recent years for local authorities to introduce schemes whereby their assessment of a business’ compliance with food hygiene regulations is scored and published for consumer information. These schemes, commonly known as 'Scores on the Doors' schemes, have been introduced on the basis that if customers can see the extent to which an establishment complies with food hygiene legislation, then they can make an informed decision as to whether to eat in that establishment. This, in turn, is believed to provide a stimulus for businesses to improve their food hygiene practices.
The large number of different schemes and associated symbols used by different councils across Britain has resulted in concern that the public are confused when trying to compare the hygiene standards of premises in different locations. This resulted in the Food Standards Agency developing and introducing a National Food Hygiene Rating Scheme in November 2010. This scheme ranks the cleanliness of premises that sell food between '0' (meaning urgent improvement is needed) and '5' (meaning very good).
The National Food Hygiene Rating Scheme covers all businesses that supply food directly to consumers, so this will include hotels, bed and breakfasts, supermarkets, restaurants, cafés and takeaways.
Although not mandatory, the Food Standard Agency is steadily replacing most of the existing “Scores on Doors” schemes in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (a separate two-tier scheme operates in Scotland which has ratings of 'pass' and 'improvement needed') as councils switch to it from their current schemes.
The National Scheme does not require councils to switch from their current scheme and many councils still use the alternative commercially run 'Scores on the Doors' scheme which uses stars rather than numbers.
However, both schemes have two fundamental features:
- It is not mandatory for you to display the score that you have received (although this information will be available to the public through a website).
- You have the ability to appeal the score that you receive if you believe the manner in which it was derived to be unfair.
Your local authority
For information and advice about food safety and hygiene, or 'Scores on the Doors', contact your local environmental health department.
Food Standards Authority (FSA)
FSA produces a range of useful publications on their website, including advice on food allergens and food hygiene.
Food hygiene ratings
For more information on the National Food Hygiene Rating Scheme visit the FSA food ratings website.