FSA Local Authority Letter (EN/E/09/026), 22 May 2009
The purpose of this letter is to update colleagues on the Report of the Public Inquiry into the outbreak of E.coli O157 in South Wales in September 2005, to explain the steps the Agency will be taking to address the Report and to highlight two of the recommendations for local authorities' action and guidance.
Colleagues will be aware that Professor Pennington's report, commissioned by the Welsh Assembly Government, was published in March 2009. The report, which can be found at http://wales.gov.uk/ecolidocs/3008707/reporten.pdf?lang=en, makes a number of recommendations, including some to food businesses, enforcement authorities, the Agency and the Welsh Assembly Government.
The Agency's initial response to the report was discussed by the FSA Board at its open meeting on 21 April and the board paper can be found at http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/committee/agenda4sfacmeet090429.pdf
The FSA Board recognised that a number of measures have been implemented since the 2005 outbreak which address some of the concerns raised in the Report. These include:
- Revision of the Food Law Code of Practice, which sets out a framework for enforcement interventions/approaches, and re-emphasises the need for a risk-based, proportionate approach to inspection;
- Provision of training for enforcement officers focusing on audit skills and HACCP-based systems;
- Development of a range of materials for the retail and catering sectors including Safer Food Better Business (SFBB), Cook Safe and Safe Catering.
The Agency recognises that there is more to be done to improve food hygiene compliance in food businesses and to support enforcement officers across the UK. To do this the Agency will be carrying out a wide ranging review and taking forward a programme of work that will cover not just E.coli 0157 but all pathogens, not just meat but all foods, and not just in Wales but throughout the UK. Our plans will be reported at the FSA open board meeting in July, and will highlight the importance of working with local authority partners and other interested parties to effect the necessary improvements. In Wales the FSA is liaising with the Welsh Assembly Government. In the meantime I would draw your attention to two particular recommendations from the Report of the Public Enquiry.
Recommendation 19: Review of policies, procedures and systems
The Report recommends that: ‘All local authorities in Wales should review their policies, procedures and systems against issues raised by this report'. While directed to colleagues in Wales, the Agency suggests that all Local Authorities throughout the UK follow this recommendation. The Framework Agreement requires reviews at regular intervals, and this work would enable local authorities to identify areas requiring improvement or clarification, as well as areas of strength, with a view to sharing problems and good practice and informing future Agency activity in response to the Report.
Recommendation 4: Dual use of equipment
The Report also recommends that ‘The principles underpinning the Butchers' Licensing Scheme, which was introduced in response to the 1996 E.coli O157 outbreak, should guide food hygiene measures in businesses processing raw meat and unwrapped ready-to-eat foods'. The Agency will be reviewing the dual use of equipment such as vacuum packing machinery, given that there is no specific provision prohibiting the use of a single piece of equipment for both raw meat and unwrapped ready-to-eat foods. However, other provisions of Regulation 852/2004 do apply to food business operators (FBOs), in particular:
- Art 5.1: FBO to put in place, implement and maintain permanent procedures based on the HACCP principles.
- Art 5.4(a): FBO to provide the competent authority with evidence of compliance with Article 5.1.
- Art 5.4(b): FBO to ensure that documents developed in accordance with Article 5 are kept up to date.
- Art 3 and Annex II Chapter V 1(a): FBO to ensure that all stages of production meet the requirement that all equipment with which food comes into contact is effectively cleaned and where necessary disinfected and that cleaning and disinfection take place at a frequency sufficient to avoid any risk of contamination:
In cases of dual use of equipment, enforcement officers should ask FBOs to demonstrate that they have permanent procedures based on HACCP principles in place and that those procedures adequately cover the dual use of such equipment. In addition enforcement officers must ensure that cleaning procedures are fully effective, through appropriate validation checks, such as microbiological testing. Where the legal requirements are breached, the appropriate enforcement options available should be applied, following the hierarchy of enforcement.
I hope this information is useful and look forward to working with local authority representatives in taking forward this programme of work. I will write again after the FSA Board meeting in July.