Ensuring food is safe is paramount. Food and drink products are highly regulated across the UK to ensure their safety and authenticity.
Many of the processes that food underges are to make sure they are safe to consume. Examples of food processing include pasteurisation of milk to remove harmful bacteria, the addition of preservatives to prevent food spoiling, or removal of toxins found naturally on agricultural products like grains or cereals.
The following are regulated aspects of food safety that are of high importance to our industry:
- The management of microorganisms and pathogens that can contaminate food is vital in the provision of safe food. Cleaning, cooking and chilling are key aspects of food safety management that help prevent foodborne illnesses. This is underpinned by the application of microbiological criteria, HACCP principles and a well-established food safety culture.
[For members - Food Microbiology Committee (MIC)]
- Chemical contaminants may impact the safety of raw materials through the supply chain, depending on their levels and inherent toxicity. These contaminants can be from the environment, occur naturally and in some cases form during processing.
[For members - Residues and Contaminants Committee (RAC)]
- Packaging plays a key role in keeping food and drink safe for consumers. Its materials and substances that come into contact with the food are subject to strict food safety regulation, whether this be plastics, paper, cardboard, printing inks or adhesives.
[For members - Food Contact Materials Committee (FCM)]
- Food additives, sweeteners and flavourings are often needed to perform specific technological functions in order to maintain or improve certain product attributes (e.g. texture, taste and shelf-life). These technical ingredients can only be used if authorised by the UK's Food Standards Agency and following thorough safety assessments.
[For members - Food Ingredients Committee (FIG)]
- Some people are hypersensitive to certain foods and can suffer adverse reactions, which for some can be life threatening. Food hypersensitivities include allergies, food intolerances, and coeliac disease. To inform and protect allergic consumers, allergen labelling is mandatory and manufacturers take care to manage unintended allergen presence and to control cross-contact.
[For members - Allergens Steering Group (ASG)]
The FDF maintains an open dialogue with UK regulators to ensure that members are alert to potential food safety incidents or authenticity issues and can respond swiftly to emerging risks to protect consumers. The FDF also supports the development and sharing of best practice, aimed at ensuring that robust systems are in place to deal effectively with an incident when it occurs.
As some of the many committees and groups available for FDF members' only access, the FDF runs several food safety-related regulatory committees, which provide our members with not just technical updates but also the opportunity to influence policy positions and workstreams.
Updates & milestones
Our Food 2022: Joint FSA/FSS report on food standards
On 8 November 2023, the second annual joint FSA/FSS report on food standards was published. Despite the issue faced by the sector over 2022, the food system showed signs of resilience and, in general, food standards compliance remained stable.
As critical challenges ahead, the report highlights the following three aspects:
- Local authority resourcing: 14% decline in food hygiene posts in Local Authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland over the last decade, with Scottish food law officer numbers falling by 25% compared to 2016/17. UK food standards officers has also fallen by 45% compared to 10 years ago.
- Availability of Official Veterinarians: a 27% fall in the number of people joining the veterinary profession between 2019 and 2022. A particular reluctance among domestically qualified vets to take on public health roles, with continued over-reliance on overseas recruitment to secure sufficient staffing
- Import controls: FSA was disappointed by the delays in the UK Government’s implementation of new imports Border Target Operating Model now coming into play in 2024. These controls provide assurance that EU imports meet UK safety standards and allow the FSA to identify and stop potentially unsafe food at an earlier stage. FSA call for no further delays in order to provide a greater level of public health protection.
The FSA also published its Local Authority Capacity and Capability Report, which aimed to allow a better understanding on the barriers and facilitators encountered by Local Authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It makes a series of recommendations for future focus and the CIEH and CTSI are taking steps to address these challenges.
FSA Statements on Meat Fraud Investigation
There have been recent media reports on potential food fraud within the meat supply chain, which is understood to be regarding a specific and ongoing criminal investigation.
On 30 March 2023, Emily Miles, Chief Executive of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), issued the following statement:
“We are continuing our criminal investigation into how a meat supplier allegedly provided products labelled as British when they were in fact sourced from other countries.
This is a live investigation which means we are looking into all new lines of inquiry with the relevant local authorities, including investigating potential food hygiene breaches. This is alongside the work we are doing to investigate food fraud.
Based on the investigation to date, there is no indication that food is unsafe or there is an increased risk to consumers.
Criminal investigations take time and need to be done with due process and fairness. The FSA will work tirelessly on behalf of consumers to ensure that this criminal investigation is done to the highest possible standards.
I do want to emphasise at a time when cost pressures and other challenges mean the risks of food fraud might be increasing, it is vital everyone involved in the food chain works to ensure that food is safe and what it says it is.”
The FSA have also flagged that if anyone has any concerns or information relating to fraud or criminality in food supply chains, they can raise these by contacting Food Crime Confidential 0207 276 8787 or by reporting it online.
Following this, the FSA released a blog update on 5 April 2023: Chief Executive’s message to stakeholders - Our meat fraud investigation. This stated that "based on the investigation to date, the FSA and the relevant local authority for the implicated business have no indication that there is unsafe food on the market, or that there is a current increased risk to consumers. In light of the new intelligence, the FSA recently added possible historic food safety concerns to our lines of inquiry for this criminal investigation.".
Post-Brexit: Food Law In Great Britain & Northern Ireland since 1 January 2021
Following the UK’s departure from the European Union (EU) on 31 January 2020, the UK entered a time limited transition period until 31 December 2020. Since the transition period has ended, regulation is an autonomous matter for both the UK and the EU as 2 separate legal and regulatory systems.
From 1 January 2021, all EU regulations and tertiary legislation relating to food law (i.e. safety and labelling) were retained in accordance with the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 as UK law. Now that the UK is no longer an EU Member State many of these retained EU laws have subsequently been amended in order to make them operable (i.e. replacing references to the European Commission with UK Government Ministers and national competent authorities) and further policy developments are expected over time.
The Northern Ireland Protocol (NIP) provides that EU food legislation, as detailed in Annex 2 of the NIP, continues to be directly applicable in Northern Ireland (NI).
It is important to note that any EU food law published after 1 January 2021 has not and will not directly apply in Great Britain (GB) and a separate national risk analysis process will take place.
Through the FDF’s multiple regulatory committees, we are committed in supporting our members to track and understand policy developments across GB and the EU (where they will directly apply to NI) and to influence the review of retained EU law.
Science for Sustainable Agriculture Consumer Research on How natural is our food, and what does 'natural' mean anyway?
In July 2022, Science for Sustainable Agriculture published the findings of recent consumer research to establish a representative snapshot of public and consumer attitudes towards scientific intervention in agriculture and food production, and particularly to establish how much people understand about where their food comes from, and how much scientific innovation goes into its development and production (press release).
The results, detailed in full in the report entitled ‘How natural is our food, and what does ‘natural mean anyway?’ reveals a lack of knowledge – even among self-identified ‘foodies’ - as to the true provenance of many of our familiar food crops, and the transformational changes they have undergone in order to be grown in the UK. The research highlights the need for more effective communication about the role of science in food and agriculture, and raises serious questions about the validity of current public discussions around issues such as precision breeding, when most consumers appear unaware of the level of scientific intervention which has already gone into the development of our everyday foods.
“There is a clear understanding among consumers of the many challenges facing our food supply, and the need for urgent action to tackle those challenges. As the world gets hotter, and people get hungrier, more effective communication about the role of science in food and agriculture, delivered by trusted sources, using the right language and terminology, will be absolutely critical.”
[Fellow SSA advisory group member, science communicator Dr Julian Little]
FSA/FSS’s Inaugural Our Food 2021 Report - An Annual Review of UK Food Standards
On 27 June 2022, the FSA/FSS published its first annual review of food standards across the UK. This report describes the key changes in food standards from 2019 to 2021, a period when the UK’s food system was affected by the departure from the EU and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. This official report was presented to all four UK Parliaments pursuant to Section 4 of the Food Standards Act 1999.
The report concludes that based on the evidence set out in this report, the overall food safety standards have largely been maintained during 2021 and that against the background of change and uncertainty, is seen a remarkable achievement. In addition to FSA/FSS’s commitment to transparency, this report also aims to reassure trading partners and consumers at home and abroad. This is taken as a baseline and a series of reports will be published annually.
With regards to the timing of the report, it is stated that it is an important period for food quality and safety, at a time when the UK is taking on new responsibilities for food following the departure from the European Union (EU), consumers need strong watchdogs looking out for whether standards are being protected.
The report’s five main chapters are on:
1. The nation’s plate, our diet and food choices today
2. Going Global, food imports, and their impact on the standards
3. Safe and sound, the latest trends in food incidents and food crime
4. Informing consumers, latest developments in food labelling and information
5. Keeping it clean, hygiene standards in food and feed establishments.
For more information FDF members can access the following information hosted in the members’ area of the FDF website (FSC-020-22).
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Some people are hypersensitive to certain foods and can suffer adverse reactions, which can be life threatening. The FDF assists the UK food industry through its provision of technical guidance to keep consumers safe.