The FSA Food Law Code of Practice: Explained

Posted: 28 June 2023 | | No comments yet

The FSA explains its new Food Law Code of Practice in more detail and answers some of the key you have about how it will impact the food and beverage industry.

Earlier this month the Food Standards Agency (FSA) published the updated Food Law Codes of Practice for England and Northern Ireland. This update provided local authorities with a new model for delivering food standards controls, helping them to make more risk-based and intelligence-driven decisions when it comes to inspections and interventions. The FSA will now take a deeper dive for New Food readers into what this means in practice, and how the updated codes address key challenges within the changing food system.

Katie Pettifer, FSA Director of Strategy and Regulatory Compliance, said: “The updated code is good news for consumers because it will help local authorities to be even more effective at stopping unsafe or inauthentic products from reaching the shelves.  It’s also good news for responsible businesses, as those with a good track record of compliance may face less frequent inspections in future. 

We can’t escape the fact that local authority resources are finite, and this updated code ensures that local authorities can make the best use of these resources.   But more fundamentally, it is about making regulation more risk-based, intelligence-driven and fit for the modern food system.”

In the UK, local authorities verify compliance with food law in the majority of food businesses. They carry out two sets of checks or controls: controls on food hygiene (microbiological quality and contamination of food by micro-organisms or foreign matter); and controls on food standards (composition, chemical contamination, adulteration and labelling of food). In simplest terms, hygiene controls are focused on how food is stored and handled, whereas standards controls relate more to the product’s composition and labelling. 

Local authorities decide the frequency of these controls and inspections by producing a risk score for food businesses. In the previous model this was calculated using six risk factors. Perhaps the biggest change in the new model is the impact of compliance (current and historic) in the calculation of the risk score, meaning businesses have the power to impact their score (and thus their inspection frequency) through demonstrating consistent compliance. The new model includes nine factors grouped under two categories: Inherent Risk and Compliance Assessment (see Table 1).

Table 1: New risk rating scheme – risk factors for food businesses

Inherent Risk Profile

·       Scale of supply and distribution

·       Ease of compliance

·       Complexity of supply chain

·       Responsibility for information

·       Potential for product harm

Compliance Assessment

·       Confidence in management

·       Current compliance level

·       Management systems and procedures

·       Allergen information

A new model

The new food standards delivery model is intended to be more dynamic and responsive to emerging risks than the current model and in doing so will be a more effective approach to protecting consumers’ health.

Inspection frequencies are set at a wider range, from once a month (highest inherent risk and low compliance), to once every ten years (lowest inherent risk and highest compliance levels). It also emphasises the importance of intelligence as a key driver of regulatory activity. This enables the FSA to have greater oversight of the compliance issues which are being identified at a local level and to undertake trend analysis to identify where action may be needed.

The effective identification of risk in the food chain enables the FSA and local authorities to identify where threats to public health or consumer protection might arise. For example, through the introduction of new or innovative products, through increasing trends of non-compliance or through adverse sampling results. The Local Authority Intelligence Coordination Team reviews intelligence from local authorities, as well as FSA food incident records and consumer complaints, to identify areas of likely non-compliance. This helps to identify where funding local authority sampling activity would be most effective. The results of that sampling activity, in turn, support the FSA to identify issues impacting at a national level, requiring strategic direction, coordination and support. This increases the likelihood of unsafe products being stopped at production, before they reach the shelves for consumers.

The new code will not be implemented overnight and whilst the FSA plan the transition to the new approach, they advise local authorities to continue to use the current Practice Guidance until they have made the necessary changes to transition to the new model. A training strategy is being developed to support local authorities which will incorporate online resources, reference material and consistency exercises for officers.

When will we see the new code?

Given the scale and complexity of the work needed to successfully embed the new framework, the FSA expect the first local authorities to begin to implement the new model by the end of 2023, with a plan to roll out the new model to local authorities on a phased basis over the next couple of years. The FSA have developed a new suite of key performance indicators to monitor the implementation of the new model and monitor the impact it is having on the food safety system

Astute readers will have noticed that this updated code is only applicable to England and Northern Ireland. A pilot is due to commence soon in Wales and will follow the approach taken in England and Northern Ireland, evaluating the impact of the new and old models. Any future considerations to change the code in Wales would follow an evaluation of the pilot.

Our fundamental mission is food you can trust and our strategy to deliver this mission needs to reflect and anticipate change. We are an innovative organisation and we are committed to continually improving our systems and intelligence in line with the evolving food landscape.

About the author

Mark Davis is Head of Delivery Support Unit, Regulatory Compliance Division, at the Food Standards Agency (FSA). 

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