All premises selling unwrapped raw meat and ready to eat food to the public will have to be licensed annually under the Butcher's Licensing scheme. This follows the 1996 E-Coli outbreak in Central Scotland which killed 17 people and caused around 500 cases of illness.
The Pennington Group, set up to identify the causes of the outbreak and the lessons to be learned, found the cause to be cross-contamination between raw meat and ready to eat food as a result of poor hygiene and handling in a butcher's shop. The Group recommended that a licensing scheme should be introduced to increase hygiene and training levels and reduce the high risk of cross-contamination.
The license requires businesses to operate effective food safety management controls and ensure food handlers and supervisors receive appropriate food hygiene training. This will reduce the risk of cross-contamination between raw and cooked meat.
Initial surveys show that at least 70 per cent of butchers in England will have a licence by 1 November. Most of the remaining premises, who meet the necessary standards, are expected to be licensed in early November
Launching the new licensing scheme, Sir John Krebs, Chairman of the Food Standards Agency said:
"The introduction of licensing for butchers is good news for consumers. They can now be confident that licensed butchers have met increased hygiene standards which minimise the risk of cross contamination from raw meat to ready to eat food. It is also good news for butchers who will benefit from the increase in consumer confidence. This new licensing scheme greatly reduces the risk of a similar outbreak happening again."
A parallel scheme came into force in Scotland on 2 October. Almost 90 per cent of butchers in Scotland required to have a licence have now been issued with one. The remaining 10 per cent are still being determined.
The butchers' licensing scheme comes into force on 1 November 2000 in England. The Regulations were laid before Parliament on 4 April 2000 and require butchers, grocers, and similar food outlets in England to be licensed if they sell open raw meat and ready-to-eat products from the same premises. Certain supermarkets with butchery service outlets selling these types of products will also need a licence. The Regulations do not cover butchers handling raw meat only because of the considerable lower risk of any ready-to-eat foods being contaminated by the raw meat.
Butchers' licenses are issued by local Environmental Health Departments, run for a year and cost £100. Licensing is subject to enhanced hygiene conditions being in place, including compliance with existing food hygiene legislation, the operation of documented HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) food safety management controls and enhanced staff hygiene training requirements.