On 26 May 2021, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) is meeting to set out a plan for the recovery of the local authorities’ delivery of official food control and related activities. There is a clear focus on restarting the regulatory delivery system in line with the UK’s Food Law Codes of Practice (“Food Law Code”). We outline some of the key features of the FSA’s plan below and what it means for food operators, including those operating via online delivery concepts and/or dark kitchens.
The role of local authorities with food law
Local authorities (LAs) are responsible for delivering official controls and related activities in most food establishments in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This involves ensuring compliance with the requirements of food law and enforcing those requirements where necessary. This may involve the LA inspecting, auditing, sampling and taking other types of intervention. In particular, they are interested in:
— food hygiene – such as microbiological quality and contamination of food by food poisoning bacteria or foreign matter including allergen management which we recently wrote about here and
— standards – such as food composition, chemical contamination, adulteration and labelling of food.
The Food Standards Agency requires official controls to be carried out regularly and on a risk basis. The UK’s Food Law Code also outlines the nature and frequency of planned control, including a requirement for an initial inspection to take place within 28 days of registration as a new food establishment.
During the pandemic, the LA’s requirements were lessened to reflect the physical challenge in inspecting during lockdowns etc. and the fact many food businesses were closed or had repurposed their business to operate as grocery, takeaway/collection services.
The rise of online-delivery concepts, “dark kitchens” and home kitchen-cooking
With the nation being forced to “stay at home” until recently, the UK food delivery and takeaway markets have boomed, largely linked to the expansion of online delivery concepts such as Deliveroo, Ubereats, Just Eat. Many large food establishments responded to this demand by establishing food-preparation hubs across multiple locations, to serve takeaway orders and widening the scope of their offering. Some people used lockdown to set up a ‘made at home’ offering and so generate extra income.
Notwithstanding the size of the kitchen, the same food laws apply for food hygiene and standards. The Food Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013 require that businesses register each establishment with their LA at least 28 days before the food operations commence. They may also need food premises approval and/or a licence for some delivery services.
LAs will be seeking out new business found on the high street. But what about those invisible businesses that have failed to register? Complaints from neighbours, consumers and competitors may bring them to the attention of the LA. But the FSA needs to a strategy to locate and enforce the food laws in these premises too.
Those failing to meet the requisite standards and/or to register their food business operations are likely to face nuisance complaints, enforcement notices and/or food hygiene inspections. There may also be issues with regard to:
— planning permission
— consumer protection law
— brand standards / miss-selling
— modern slavery/employee welfare
The FSA also plans to discuss the issue of dark kitchens and online delivery concepts at its meeting on 26 May 2021. We will update you in respect of any developments on issues raised in this update after this meeting.
We can provide food operators of all levels with a clear route map of the law with regard to food hygiene and standards requirements. We are also highly experienced in responding to complaints or enforcement notices issued by LAs. Please do get in touch if we can help.