The Importance of Food Safety
3 March 2023
The importance of food safety is knowing how to avoid the spread of foodborne diseases when cooking, preparing, and storing food. People can often feel unwell complaining of sickness, diarrhoea and stomach pains. Most of us dismiss the cause as ‘something that disagreed with us’. However, this may be a food poisoning caused by eating contaminated or poisonous food. Food poisoning affects thousands of people each year in Ireland, the seriousness of which cannot be underestimated. Good food safety is essential to make sure we are not harmed in any way from the food and drink we consume. All food handlers have a legal obligation to make sure they do not cause harm to anyone through bad practice, ignorance or neglect.
Food Safety and the Law
The importance of food safety has a significant legal weight. Serious breaches of food laws can result in significant financial penalties and prosecutions resulting in imprisonment.
Food businesses who do not comply with the law can incur the additional sanction of direct financial costs, including:
- Fees for additional official controls – businesses can be charged for the expenses arising from any additional official controls that were necessary to follow up non-compliance.
- Court-imposed penalties arising from a prosecution.
- Costs associated with destruction of non-compliant foods.
- Administrative fines such as fixed penalty notices.
As well as taking immediate enforcement action to deal efficiently and effectively with risks to public health and interests, each year a small number of prosecutions are initiated where there are significant breaches of food law. Prosecutions may also be initiated where there is intentional or reckless endangerment of public health. Taking prosecutions also supports the objective of enforcement as a deterrent to future non-compliance in food businesses in general.
Food Safety Training
A major requirement by law is that all food handlers must receive appropriate training in safe food handling relevant to their duties. This means that the type of training you need depends on the type of job you do. Legislation specifies that, even if a food operative handles only wrapped foods, they must receive training in how to handle food safely (which might include storage, serving, food allergens, inspection of deliveries, pest control, etc.). Every food operative has a responsibility to follow the food safety regulations and law to ensure a safe food product for their customer. If something goes wrong, evidence of receiving formal training may help in a defense of ‘due diligence’. This is why it is crucial to keep records of all the training staff have been given. Every employee must know the importance of food safety and how to achieve and maintain it.
Food Handlers Responsibilities
Food Handlers have a legal responsibility to:
- Keep themselves clean.
- Maintain good levels of personal hygiene.
- Follow the food safety training they have been given.
- Wear appropriate personal protective Equipment (PPE).
- Report to their supervisor if they have specific illnesses or symptoms of food poisoning.
Food handlers could be prosecuted if it can be proved they have not followed company rules and training they have been given.
‘Due Diligence’ is the principal defence available to a food business if a legal action is taken against them. It means the business must prove they took every reasonable precaution to ensure the safety of food. Precautions could be:
- Systems of control to minimise risks.
- Implementation of cleaning schedules.
- Personal hygiene.
- Inspection of deliveries.
- Pest control.
- Record keeping.
- Written records.
This list is not exhaustive but ‘Due Diligence’ could be demonstrated by proven use of these systems. If the business can show the offence was the fault of another person, such as a food handler who ignored company rules, this could also be used as a defence. In such a case it is possible that the food handler could be prosecuted if it can be proven they have been negligent.
Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI)
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) was established under the Food Safety Authority of Ireland Act, 1998. This Act was enacted in July 1998 and came into effect on 1st January 1999.
The principal function of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland is to protect consumers and raise compliance through partnership, science and food law enforcement.
FSAI are a statutory, independent and science-based body, dedicated to protecting public health and consumer interests in the area of food safety and hygiene. They come under the aegis of the Minister for Health and currently have a Board of ten. They also have a 15 member Scientific Committee that assists and advises the Board. Therefore, decisions relating to food safety and hygiene take account of the latest and best scientific advice and information available.
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland has authorised officers who have extensive powers to enter and inspect food premises, to secure these premises for later inspection, to inspect and, if necessary, remove records. These officers may take samples of food or related materials and have these samples analysed and it is an offence for any person to obstruct an officer in carrying out this duty.
The authorised officers are the staff of the various agencies involved in food safety, including Environmental Health Officers from the Health Service Executive (HSE).
Environmental Health Officers can:
- Enter food premises at any reasonable time to inspect premises, equipment food and procedures within the business.
- Take food samples and swabs from surfaces.
- Take photographs.
- inspect written records in order to help them make assessment of the premises.
Failing to allow them access is an obstruction under the law.
Please remember – it is a legal requirement that staff who are involved in a food environment are trained and/or supervised commensurate with their work activity!
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To find out more, please check our Courses page.
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