FSA Consultation letter, 3 March 2003
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Proposals to replace the existing twenty Codes of Practice which food authorities must have regard to when engaged in food law enforcement. It is proposed to replace the current Codes with one consolidated Code of Practice and associated Practice Guidance. Responses are requested by: 26 May 2003
In reviewing the codes the FSA have set out to update and consolidate the content
of the codes, suggest changes to some of the more significant aspects of the
codes such as the inspection rating schemes, and to make the Code more user-friendly.
The FSA have involved key stakeholders (LACORS, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, the Trading Standards Institute, the Food and Drink Federation, the British Hospitality Association, the Small Business Service, and the Consumers Association) and are grateful for this contribution to the work.
The FSA legal advice is that there should be a clear division between what food authorities must do in enforcing food law and which must be included in the statutory code, and other advice which can be published as practice guidance.
As a result of this, some text in the current codes of practice is not now considered appropriate for a statutory Code of Practice and has been included in the proposed new practice guidance. Other text has been deleted because it was considered out of date and no longer relevant.
The draft Code and Practice Guidance are divided into eight sections on Administration; Communication; General Enforcement; Inspections; Product Specific Regulations; Sampling; Monitoring of Inspections; and Annexes.
It is proposed that the new code should be published in loose-leaf format to make it easier for the Agency and authorities to keep the Code up-to-date.
Comments are requested on the content of the code, the division of the content between the Code and practice Guidance, and the proposed design and format of the Code. Comments are particularly welcome on matters identified in the summary of changes and on the proposed revised inspection rating schemes.
Similar consultations are taking place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Section 40 of the Food Safety Act 1990 permits Ministers to issue Codes of Practice to food enforcement authorities concerning the execution and enforcement of the Act and subordinate legislation made under it.
This provision was not altered by the Food Standards Act 1999.
The Codes set out instructions and criteria to which the authority should have regard when engaged in the enforcement of food law and are intended to achieve more even standards of enforcement by food authorities.
There are currently 20 separate Codes of Practice issued under Section 40. The majority of the Codes were issued in 1991 following the introduction of the Act. Additional Codes were published in the mid -1990s to coincide with implementation of EU Product Specific Hygiene Regulations. Only a few of the Codes have been revised since they were first published.
A complete review of all the Codes was agreed in 1999 because some Codes:
Had become out of date (eg containing guidance on amended, repealed or replaced regulations) and conflicted with best practice;
No longer reflected local authority structures (eg following the creation of unitary authorities);
Pre-dated the wider role of LACORS to embrace food hygiene and safety co-ordination, and the development of the home authority principle and similar co-ordination initiatives.
The Codes also need to be amended to reflect the role of the FSA's Framework Agreement with local authorities which came into force on 1 April 2001. This agreement includes the Enforcement Standard which makes a number of references to the Codes as criteria for service delivery and against which the FSA can audit food authority enforcement work.
The most significant proposals for change relate to the inspection rating schemes which food authorities use to set inspection frequencies for food premises.
The existing food hygiene scheme is simplified to aid consistency and a new food standards scheme, based on the same principles as the revised food hygiene scheme is introduced.
Premises subject to product specific hygiene Regulations are now excluded from the inspection rating scheme, in response to Food & Veterinary Office calls for shorter inspection frequencies in this area, and the Code directly specifies the minimum number of inspections required for these premises (2 or 3 inspections per annum subject to premises type).
The lowest risk premises need no longer be included in the inspection programme to enable food authorities to use alternative enforcement approaches other than inspection (e.g. questionnaires, self-assessment etc), and so provide greater flexibility for local authorities in the use of their resources.
The view of the Agency is that the proposed Code amendments will have a broadly neutral financial impact on both food businesses and local authorities.
The extra work associated with increased inspection frequencies in respect of 'product specific' premises may be balanced by the use of alternative enforcement approaches for lowest risk premises.
However the FSA welcome views on possible cost implications (increases and decreases) for individual businesses and local authorities and on sectors as a whole.
Subject to the comments received on this public consultation, the aim is to publish the revised Code and practice guidance later this year.