Blog: how to report, respond and prevent food safety incidents

Even well-prepared businesses can encounter a food safety incident – so what are your obligations? Mike Williams of STS looks at the ramifications

Public safety is paramount and even though most food businesses endeavour to source ingredients from reputable suppliers they could still suffer a food safety incident. Here I will explain how to report, respond to and subsequently help prevent further incidentsheport, respond to and subsequently help prevent further incidents.

Food businesses have a duty to maintain the trust, standards and integrity of their complete food chain, but incidents can unfortunately still happen. So what constitutes a food safety incident?

In the UK if you identify contaminated or wrongly packaged food within the food chain, or believe the safety or quality of food is in question and may need to be recalled / withdrawn from sale, you are legally required to inform your local authority and the Food Standards Agency. Most other countries also operate a similar process. This could include foods that have been part processed by another organisation, foods that will be cooked and served by you or even food products supplied to you ready to serve.

High standards

Other examples of food safety incidents can include contamination and environmental incidents, such as fires and chemical spills. These can threaten foods before they enter, or as they progress through, the initial stages of the food chain.

In the first instance, any food business should not accept deliveries that don’t meet high standards. Particular tell tale signs to look out for include damaged outer packaging, poor or no labelling, or the food not matching the description of the goods ordered.

If frozen or chilled food fails to reach you at the required temperature, or shows signs of not being stored at the correct temperature, you must reject the delivery. Chilled foods should ideally arrive in a suitable vehicle below 5ºC. Frozen foods should ideally be below -5ºC. Both chilled and frozen foods should be moved to your appropriate storage facilities as quickly as possible.

If you reject a delivery you must make sure the supplier is aware why the delivery was rejected, and that you have notified the appropriate authorities in case further investigation is required.

Taking food safety seriously

If you doubt the safety or provenance of any food on your premises you shouldn’t use it and, again, you should notify the authorities who will then recommend the appropriate action that needs to be taken. Such an issue would not reflect badly on a business, it would actually show that they take food safety seriously. By taking positive action and making others aware, you can implement procedures to prevent food incidents from occurring elsewhere.

It is also worthwhile having a written food incident plan that contains all your key contact details so that appropriate action can be taken if a food incident arises. This document is an integral part of your HACCP plan and must be kept up to date.

Sometimes the first a food business knows about a potential problem is when the authorities come knocking on the door, but the onus is on you to take responsibility. To help food businesses reduce threats to the food and drink supply, the British Standards Institution has developed a free to download user friendly guide*.

You could also speak to your local food safety authority, contact an independent health & safety specialist like STS-solutions on 01252 728300 or visit sts‑ for more advice.

Mike Williams is a director of food safety and health & safety management consultancy STS:


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