Permits to trade needed under new hygiene regime

Third-part hygiene audits could become key to future regulation

Food businesses would need a ‘permit to trade’ before being allowed to start up, under new proposals from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) being considered as part of its Regulating the Future programme, which seeks to radically change the way food hygiene is monitored and regulated across the UK.

If the plans go ahead, as well as permits to trade, a new system of private sector ‘certified regulatory auditors’ (CRAs) could be introduced. CRAs would be empowered to carry out inspections to approve and subsequently audit businesses.

These huge proposed changes to the existing regime are designed to make hygiene regulation – currently the responsibility of the FSA and local authorities (LAs) across the UK – fit for the modern world.

Although the FSA and LAs would still be centrally involved in food safety, it would recognise the increasingly limited resources they have. It would also involve transferring more of the costs of inspecting food businesses onto the businesses themselves.

New regulatory model

The aim is to ensure the smooth delivery of a new regulatory model for food businesses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland by 2020. However, Food Safety Scotland, the competent authority north of the border, is also known to be tracking the proposed changes closely.

At the FSA’s Board meeting on Wednesday (March 15), a report will be tabled by Nina Purcell, FSA director of regulatory delivery and Wales, which gives an update on the programme and provides details of engagement so far with consumers, industry and professionals about the proposed changes.

However, speaking at a conference in London last week (March 9) organised by food safety audit specialist NSF International, Purcell provided delegates with an update on progress with the prososals to date.

She explained that success of the programme would hinge on setting up a central register of food businesses across the nation – something that currently does not exist, as much of this information is held by different LAs. In addition, a register of competent CRAs would need to be set up. They would operate to a set of approved standards.

Tesco and Mitchells and Butlers

To date, supermarket chain Tesco and foodservice chain Mitchells & Butlers, have been involved in feasibility studies to investigate the use of industry data and third-party assurance schemes, which could be used to regulate businesses under a revised regulatory regime.

The studies have provided us with valuable insight to inform our current thinking and demonstrated that there is the potential for industry data to provide assurance to inform the nature and frequency of interventions by LAs,” said Purcell in her report to the FSA Board.

“The studies also highlighted that different businesses have different standards and that these often go beyond what legislation requires, which is good for consumers, and reinforced our thinking that development of a framework of standards set by the FSA will be fundamental to the success of the new delivery model.”

Purcell noted that setting a framework standard for competency of people providing assurance would be a cornerstone of the FSA’s plans for the use of regulated private assurance within the model.

“At the moment, we are looking at enhanced registration where we are going to think about the sort of information we would want to know from a business  more than what we currently get  and see how much compliance we can get in building the data on the back of awareness raising and encouraging world leaders to help us with this,” she told the NSF conference.

Permit to trade

If this didn’t achieve the desired outcome, the FSA would move to a permit to trade approach, which probably would require legislative change, she added.

Food hygiene consultant and former head of LA enforcement at the FSA John Barnes will be giving a keynote presentation titled ‘Towards 2020: where next for earned recognition’ at Food Manufacture Group’s 2017 food safety conference under the theme ‘Food safety 2020: preparing your business for change’, which takes place at Woodland Grange, Leamington Spa on Thursday June 22. For more details, visit food-safetyconference.co.uk

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Comments (1)

Bob Salmon - 13 Mar 2017 | 07:01

Small ones too

Our recent survey indicates that 57% of micro food enterprises would consider closing if this and charging for inspections were to be enforced. Are the risks in the present system worth the change?

13-Mar-2017 at 19:01 GMT

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