The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has implemented new revisions to the Food Law Code of Practice (the Code) in an attempt to improve the way they regulate businesses. The Code gives statutory guidance to local authorities which they must have regard to when engaged in the enforcement of food law.

The FSA is attempting through these amendments to harmonise the way food safety is regulated and improve consistency across local authorities.

So what are the significant changes?

The FSA has provided further information within the Code on the communication of food safety incidents between regulators, giving clearer guidance on when referrals should be made between regulators and to the FSA.

The main updates include:

  1. A section focused on food crime, introducing a subjective "seriousness dishonesty" test which will be applied by regulators in each individual scenario. "Seriousness" will be assessed on the likely level of detriment, for instance to the general public, and will be judged on the geographic scope and scale which is not a high threshold to meet. The Code also focuses on food crime and food fraud, with the FSA's National Food Crime Unit working to encourage regulators to share any suspicions they may have.
  2. Revisions to what qualifications and competencies are required of officers who carry out controls and interventions. Tiered roles of officers now clearly distinguish the requisite skills and qualifications necessary for each role, as well as a comprehensive list of competencies which must be met.
  3. The Code now includes a food establishment intervention rating scheme which determines the frequency a business should be visited. This is determined using risk assessment criteria where the regulators will assess hazards, risks, level of compliance by the business to date and their confidence in the management structure. Each of these criteria is "scored" and used to come to a rating which determines the minimum frequency the FSA will intervene. Previously, it was up to the local authority to determine the intervention frequency, however the Code provides for a consistent benchmark in the approach to be taken by local authority officers.

What will the impact be on businesses?

- As the Code now welcomes intercommunication between regulators, they will likely now be better informed and have a greater collective knowledge of the businesses they are regulating.

- Given the changes in intervention, some businesses may well see an increase in intervention following the revision of the Code, especially if they are falling as high risk within the new "scoring" criteria.

- The Code focuses regulators' attention on businesses that have fallen under their radar before, whilst low scoring business that have longstanding compliance may find less frequent local authority visits.

- The Code attempts to facilitate consistency across local authorities when it comes to compliance and intervention; this would be welcomed to provide businesses with predictability when it comes to intervention and provides some comfort that a fair approach is being taken across the board.