Richard Werran explores the topics of food safety and food hygiene

Food safety culture is defined by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) as ‘shared values, beliefs and norms that affect mind-set and behavior toward food safety in, across and throughout an organization’1. There are many elements that assist in creating a positive and effective culture that ensures food safety.

The food industry often experiences incidents relating to food safety such as product recalls, food poisoning outbreaks, and allergen contamination. There is one common factor in every incident – people, and the way they behave. The culture of an organization is determined by this behavior, and this impacts the ‘safety culture’, which then determines the safety of food produced.

Food safety
To embed a positive food safety culture, it is essential for organizations in the hospitality, retail and catering (HORECA) sector to make food safety a top priority. Food safety refers to routines in the preparation, handling and storage of food meant to prevent foodborne illness and injury. Foodborne illnesses are usually infectious or toxic in nature and caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances entering the body through contaminated food or water2.

Food products may encounter a number of health hazards during their journey through the supply chain. Safe food handling practices and procedures are therefore implemented at every stage of the food production life cycle in order to curb these risks and prevent harm to consumers.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is responsible for food safety and food hygiene in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It works with local authorities to enforce food safety regulations3.

However, despite regulatory oversight, some food outlets don’t have a robust food safety management system in place to meet even the most basic requirements of food safety. This can lead to a poor food safety culture and a foodborne illness risk to the customers of these establishments. Unlike food manufacturing, there isn’t a dominant management system standard adhered to by UK businesses in the HORECA sector. Some organizations manage their food safety and hygiene through the BSI Catering certification programme which provides a framework specially designed to improve the operational food safety and hygiene of a commercial kitchen environment.

Food hygiene
Food hygiene differs to food safety in that it is about making sure that food doesn’t cause harm through allergies and bacteria. Here, the World Health Organization gives five key principles of food hygiene. Understanding these gives a comprehensive overview of what food hygiene means, as well as how the definition might differentiate slightly from food safety4. They are:

  • Prevent contaminating food with pathogens spreading from people, pets, and pests.
  • Separate raw and cooked foods to prevent contaminating the cooked foods.
  • Cook foods for the appropriate length of time and at the appropriate temperature to kill pathogens.
  • Store food at the proper temperature.
  • Use safe water and safe raw materials.

Natasha’s Law
Food hygiene, or specifically food allergies, has been in the media spotlight following a tragic incident that took place in 2016 which saw 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse have a fatal allergic reaction to a baguette purchased at Pret-a-Manger in Heathrow Airport. Natasha had a sesame allergy and wasn’t aware that sesame seeds had been pre-baked into the products’ bread. After eating the baguette, Natasha collapsed onboard her flight, dying of anaphylaxis shortly afterwards.

Following this tragic accident, Natasha’s family passionately campaigned for increased transparency around UK food labelling requirements. The result of this campaigning is the upcoming law, which will provide robust legal guidelines for all organizations that prepare and serve food in England.

As of October 2021, any organization based in England must clearly label all foods packed and produced on their premises with a complete list of ingredients. This legislation will be legally enforced under Natasha’s Law.

However, with less than a year to go, YouGov research commissioned by BSI has revealed nearly two thirds (64 per cent) of respondents are still unaware of the change of law, while the food service industry faces an uphill struggle to make the shift before labelling is required. Even though, 79 per cent of those surveyed believe it is important that ingredients are listed not just on labels, but on menus too.

As the food service industry struggles to recover from the loss of trade resulting from Covid-19, 30 per cent of consumers surveyed said a lack of information on allergens such as nuts, gluten or seafood makes them avoid eating at certain outlets. Similarly, 45 per cent said that lack of confidence that staff working for food service organizations have been trained about allergens, dietary requirements and hygiene stops them from eating at a venue.

As an independent certification and training provider to the food service industry on food safety, BSI believes that businesses are missing out on a chance to boost trade, and get ahead of the changes that will enable them to comply with the law when it comes into force next year.

Our survey highlights both the concern and the appetite from consumers for more information and greater transparency, with one in three avoiding outlets that fail to label allergens. This suggests the food service and hospitality sectors are missing an opportunity to demonstrate that they have the correct systems and procedures in place to enable allergy sufferers to make informed choices.

The labelling of allergens on each pre-packaged food, as well as other issues relating to food safety such as cross contamination, isn’t an easy process and is one that we know some businesses are concerned about getting ready in time. We’re encouraging organizations today to reach out for support on food safety to ensure their staff are properly trained and independently certified when it comes to the identification of ingredients and the management of allergens and labelling ahead of Natasha’s Law coming into force this time next year.

1. https://mygfsi.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/GFSI-Food-Safety-Culture-Full.pdf
2. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/food-safety
3. https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/food-standards-agency#:~:text=The%20Food%20Standards%20Agency%20(FSA,the%20standards%20are%20being%20met.
4. https://www.who.int/foodsafety/areas_work/food-hygiene/en/

Richard Werran is EMEA Director of Food and Retail Supply Chain at BSI. BSI is the business improvement company that enables organizations to turn standards of best practice into habits of excellence. For over a century BSI has championed what good looks like and driven best practice in organizations around the world. Working with 84,000 clients across 193 countries, it is a truly international business with skills and experience across a number of sectors including aerospace, automotive, built environment, food, and healthcare.
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