THE NEED FOR HEALTH & SAFETY AND FOOD HYGIENE SYSTEMS
As we reach the end of this year’s Food Safety Week (July 4-10), we pick up on a useful guidance message stemming from the Food Standards Agency's (FSA's) advice on how to waste less food safely, by making more use of freezers.
FSA is campaigning to address the food waste problem by suggesting consumers plan ahead and where appropriate to freeze food before the use-by date if there is a chance you may end up disposing of it once the use-by date expires. There are good lessons to be learned from the FSA guidance which span across to all business – food and non-food alike. We refer of course to having robust management systems in place. More of this below, but first a bit about ‘freezing’.
Food Safety and Freezing
There is a myth that food can only be frozen on the day of purchase, but the freezer acts like a ‘pause’ button meaning you can safely freeze most foods right up to the use-by date. Food in a freezer remains safe but the quality can deteriorate over time. The FSA recommend that you eat it within three to six months or in accordance with any freezing instructions on the packaging. When food is defrosted, the ‘pause’ button is turned off, so defrost food as and when required and eat within 24 hours of it being fully defrosted.
Not just for consumers
Food businesses cannot afford to allow food and ingredients to pass their use by date, and will be familiar with the rules surrounding freezing and defrosting food. Such as the need to place food in an air tight container or wrap it well in foil, freezer wrap or cling film before placing in the freezer. Otherwise the cold air will dry it out. Similarly, food businesses will be aware of the practicality of splitting food into smaller portions, so that they only need to defrost the number of portions required and not the whole item of food which could otherwise result in food being wasted. So this advice is not just for consumers.
Whilst it is not possible to explain all the food safety implications of freezing and defrosting food or advise how to cook food in this update, suffice to say it is vital that food that has been frozen and then defrosted is not refrozen. Any defrosted food must be cooked thoroughly.
Robust Management Systems – Food / H&S / Employment
Needless-to-say, it is important that food businesses have robust management systems in place. These set out the procedures and responsibilities that ensure, for example that food put in a fridge/freezer is appropriately labelled, that temperature is controlled, records are kept and staff are appropriately trained.
The reason for having a robust management system is that in the event of any breach of food safety legislation, the food business can demonstrate a ‘due diligence’ defence. That being, it took all reasonable steps to minimise any breach of food safety law. Similarly it provides evidence to help defeat any allegation of food poisoning. The manslaughter by gross negligence conviction (see Information Update 2016/12) reminded all food business operators to ensure that staff are appropriately trained in allergen awareness and food hygiene, and that all documented food safety procedures are up to date and operational.
Compliance with Health & Safety legislation also requires concerted and consistent effort. The Safety Policy will set out the framework of how that organisation addresses it’s Health & Safety obligations. Risk Assessments, method statements and training being the practical tools of implementation.
Actions speak louder than words
It is just as important that all businesses have robust contracts of employment and employee handbooks, rules and procedures in place. However, the contract and handbook is not enough on their own. Unless management are prepared to address any transgression of the rules, it sends a message that the rule is not enforced (and can therefore be ignored!). Actions often speak louder than words. It does not mean that each and every breach of the rules requires formal disciplinary action, and taking informal steps may be an appropriate response depending upon the rule and the severity of the transgression. Taking action does demonstrate that management are prepared to enforce their systems, rules and procedures.
It is important to remember that the employer is liable for an act of an employee which is done 'in the course of employment', even if the employer did not know about it or approve of it. However, if the ‘act’ is a discriminatory act or act of harassment, the employer has a defence if it proves that it ‘took all reasonable steps to prevent the employee doing the thing, or doing anything of that description’. Whilst having a published Equal Opportunities Policy is a factor, it is meaningless unless it has been reinforced by management. Taking steps to minimise any discrimination occurring includes staff training. This will ensure that employees know what is, or is not, acceptable behaviour within the workplace, which in turn shows that the employer has taken such steps as were ‘reasonably practicable’ to prevent the alleged discriminatory act.