Food Law News - UK - 2006

FSA Local Authority Letter (ENF/E/06/064), 11 October 2006

HYGIENE - FVO audits in the UK dairy sector and possible impending action

You may have picked up on the extensive media coverage over last weekend of developments following an FVO audit involving the UK dairy sector in May/June this year. A statement about this may be found on the Food Standards Agency website.

I have been asked to bring you briefly up to date with the situation and to draw attention to the potential implications for local authority enforcement. We will be writing to you again with further information shortly.

Bowland Dairy Products (UK PE 023)

The European Commission is moving to instruct Member States to destroy, and prohibit the marketing of, curd cheese produced by this company. We expect a Commission Decision later this week, which we will implement by means of a Statutory Instrument in England (and separately in Wales , Scotland and Northern Ireland ). Local Authorities will be informed formally when this is issued.

Curd cheese is the only product manufactured by this company, and our information is that it is all exported. The company's local authority ( Pendle DC ) is checking this at the moment. In the circumstances action to implement the legal provisions will fall to the local authorities concerned ( Pendle DC and Lancashire CC). If there is any change to this, we will let you know immediately.

FVO Audit of the UK Dairy Sector

As a result of the issues emerging from the May/June audit, the FVO has signalled its intention to undertake a full audit of the UK dairy sector between 20 and 28 November this year. We have received the formal notification of this, but no other details of what this might entail.

Companies undertaking activities similar to those at Bowland (cheese recovery – stopped at Bowland because operations were not approved - and processing of milk unsuitable for the liquid market), can expect to be the focus of FVO attention, although they may also be expected to audit more widely. We have no information on the premises they will want to visit.

The European Commission has signalled its intention to fast track infraction proceedings against the UK for failure in its enforcement obligations in the dairy sector. Until they proceed, we will not know precisely how these will be formulated. When received, the UK Government will decide how to respond. In the circumstances it is of paramount importance that proper attention and priority is given to the enforcement of the hygiene rules in the dairy sector. The Agency is setting up a small dedicated team to prepare and handle the FVO audit, and they will be writing to you soon with specific information and advice.

In the meantime, there are a number of areas where local authorities are requested to begin to prepare. These include ensuring the:

Both are required by Article 4 of Regulation (EC) No 853/2005. In the latter case, and since dairy establishments require inspection at least twice a year under the Code of Practice, the FVO will expect all UK dairy establishments to have been reapproved by the time they visit.

A further point likely to be of interest to the FVO is how, within their HACCP plans and prerequisite programmes, food business operators demonstrate that the raw materials they use are fit for purpose. The context for the FVO in this regard was how food business operators show that milk (also known as interface milk) does not contain chemicals or residues carried over from the cleaning (in place) operations.

Cheese Recovery

The ‘cleaning' of mould affected cheese later used for human consumption was another issue raised in the first audit, as were operations involving cheese off-cuts, gratings and floor sweepings (the latter we have said is unacceptable). We wrote to you in July about this. While we are grateful to those who have responded to the request for information, it would be helpful to have replies from everyone, so we can obtain the full picture. We will be pursuing the necessary information separately, with LACORS assistance, through Chairs of Food Liaison Groups. We are also planning to provide interim precautionary advice on the conditions under which cheese recovery may take place.

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