The scoring system used by Meat Hygiene Service vets to monitor hygiene in abattoirs and meat cutting plants is to be improved to make it more accurate and consistent, Food Safety Minister Jeff Rooker announced today.
Announcing the results of a review of the Hygiene Assessment System (HAS), Mr Rooker said the current system - while satisfactory for monitoring hygiene in individual meat plants - worked less well once the publication of scores allowed comparisons to be made between plants.
Mr Rooker said today: "In re-launching the Hygiene Assessment System as HAS'99, we recognise that the system needs to become more accurate and consistent. Since criteria for scoring hygiene standards only existed for two of the four available markings, decisions about awarding the middle 'b' and 'c' scores have been down to individual judgement. They have therefore been less objective than will be the case in the future, with the introduction of the new expanded guidance that will ensure the application of common standards in all premises. In my view, arguments about the scoring system have diverted attention away from the main issue - achieving improvements in hygiene standards in meat plants.
"The industry has been fully involved in the creation of the guidance, and will be asked to review the new arrangements in September. HAS scores may fluctuate a little as people adjust to the new system. All being well, the first scores using the new guidance will be published in late October. A break in the publication of the 'HAS Supplement' will mark a 'clean-break' between the old and new systems. I believe that the new HAS guidance, developed with industry participation and launched today, will together with the MHS training programme - significantly improve accuracy, consistency, and reliability. This increased reliability has been sought by the meat industry, and I am hopeful that it will be welcomed by them and their customers."
MHS Official Veterinary Surgeons (OVSs) assess the general standard of hygiene at meat plants using the Hygiene Assessment System (HAS). Each aspect is scored according to guidance contained in the MHS Operations Manual and an overall score is calculated for each plant. Overall plant scores are normally published monthly on a three month rolling average basis in the 'Meat Hygiene Enforcement Report - HAS Supplement'. The new arrangement will bring Britain into line with Northern Ireland's scores by removing the one month's delay in publication. The last set of scores using the old guidance will be published in August. The first set of scores using the new guidance i.e. July/August/September, is expected to be published in late October, following the review.
HAS is a management tool to assess general hygiene performance at meat plants. It is not a substitute for the statutory health mark which is required to show that meat has been produced according to statutory hygiene standards, under veterinary supervision, and has been declared fit for human consumption. If hygiene failures happen, inspectors take enforcement action to make sure the problems are corrected.
HACCP is a science-based systematic approach to preventing food safety problems by identifying the cause of such problems and installing effective measures for their control. The Government/Industry Working Group on Meat Hygiene recommended that slaughterhouses should adopt HACCP on a voluntary basis until it became a statutory requirement. The current EU review and consolidation exercise of food hygiene legislation proposes that HACCP principles are applied in all food businesses. The UK is supporting this approach.