Food Law News - UK - 2002

FSA Scotland Press Release (79/02), 10 December 2002

HYGIENE - Butchers prove they are up to the job

Food safety standards in Scotland's butchers' shops have clearly improved since the E.coli 0157 outbreak of 1996, although a report published today reveals some lessons have still to be learned.

Commissioned by the Food Standards Agency Scotland, the report was independently conducted by Dr J. Verner Wheelock. Its findings put forward several recommendations on lessons needing to be learned by Government regulators after studying the impact of Butchers' Shop Licensing Regulations implemented in October 2000.

Dr Wheelock's findings are based on interviews with relevant officials in all of Scotland's 32 local authorities, visits to 198 butchers' shops throughout the country and the views of 1,893 meat consumers.

The main findings show:
food safety standards in butchers' shops have improved since the E.coli 0157 outbreak in Central Scotland, but this is not attributed solely to the licensing scheme as local authorities also took measures to improve standards prior to licensing;
independent assessors found standards of food safety rated as excellent, fully acceptable or acceptable at 98% of supermarket butchers and 86% of independents visited;
consumer awareness of main food safety precautions for handling and cooking raw meat varies between age groups and shows that education is required, particularly among those under 30;
84% of consumers questioned said they strongly agreed that butchers should wash their hands between serving raw and ready-to-eat foods -only 42% said they watched to ensure this was done.

Other findings showed local authorities and butchers faced a considerable challenge, mainly due to the tight timescale between guidance being issued in May 2000 and implementation of the regulations in October 2000. Also highlighted was a lack of detail in guidance to local authorities, which is blamed for inconsistencies in implementation of the legislation.

Dr Wheelock also suggests the public could help maintain and improve food hygiene in retail outlets by paying greater attention to the service they receive. Dr. Wheelock said: 'On the basis of this study, the case for extending the licensing system more generally is not proven. What is crucial for the future, is that preparation is done properly, especially to try and ascertain problem areas that arise in work procedures, equipment, premises, training, guidance and inauguration.

'All of these needs must be resolved in advance, especially in relation to definitive procedures which should seek to achieve all-round agreement'.

In accepting the report Dr George Paterson, Director of the Food Standards Agency Scotland, commented: 'Overall there is much we can learn from this in raising food standards and protecting consumer safety across the food chain from farm to fork.

'I am pleased that 73% of consumers believe effective measures have been taken to ensure safer meat. There is more good news when you see 98% of supermarket butchers and 86% of independents are achieving acceptable standards of food safety.'

Butchers' Licensing Regulations were introduced in Scotland in October 2000 following recommendations from an expert group chaired by Professor Hugh Pennington of Aberdeen University.

The Pennington Report recommended that HACCP - Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point - needed to be introduced to ensure food safety. To bridge the gap until this legislation could be introduced, the Butcher's Licensing arrangement was put in place. This required butchers selling raw and cooked meat to obtain a license from their local authority.

The study - published today - was commissioned by the Food Standards Agency Scotland and conducted by Dr J.Verner Wheelock using a team of independent assessors.

Background Notes

Following the serious outbreak of infection with E. coli O157 in Central Scotland at the end of 1996, the Secretary of State for Scotland set up an Expert Group under the Chairmanship of Professor Hugh Pennington. The Group recommended that 'HACCP should be adopted in all food businesses to ensure food safety'. The Group concluded that there was a need for measures to bridge the gap between the legislative position in April 1997 and the effective implementation of HACCP.

Therefore, they suggested selective licensing arrangements for premises not covered by the Meat Products (Hygiene) Regulations 1994 should be introduced by new regulations. The Food Safety (General Food Hygiene) (Butchers Shops) Amendment (Scotland) Regulations were laid before the Scottish Parliament on March 30, 2000, and came into force on October 2, 2000. This situation was inherited by the newly-formed Food Standards Agency Scotland from the Scottish Executive in April, 2000.

The objective of the study was to carry out an evaluation of the impact of Butchers' Shop Licensing Regulations in Scotland. This required butchers selling both raw and cooked meat to obtain a licence from their relevant Local Authority (LA) to grant approval to trade. The aim of the study was to learn lessons relating to the practical application of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) Principles in small food businesses.

To go to main Foodlaw-Reading Index page, click here.