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Food Safety Act & Legislation

What is the Food Safety Act 1990?

The Food Safety Act 1990 is wide-ranging legislation on food safety and consumer protection in relation to food throughout Great Britain.

What does the Act aim to achieve?

The main aims of the Act are: to ensure that all food meets consumers‟ expectations in terms of nature, substance and quality and is not misleadingly presented; to provide legal powers and specify offences in relation to public health and consumers‟ interest; and to enable Great Britain to fulfil its part of the United Kingdom‟s responsibilities in the European Union.

What is the scope of the Act?

The Act covers activities throughout the food distribution chain, from primary production through distribution to retail and catering.

The Act gives the Government powers to make regulations on matters of detail. The Food Standards Agency is the principal Government Department responsible for preparing specific regulations under the Act.

Does the Food Safety Act stand alone?

No. Regulation (EC) 178/2002 (the General Food Law Regulation), which now provides the basic framework for food law in the EU and UK, is also important food safety legislation and contains key provisions on food safety (Article 14), presentation (Article 16), traceability (Article 18) and withdrawal, recall and notification of unsafe food (Article 19).

What activities are covered by the Act?

  • The Act covers operations involved in
  • Selling and possessing with a view to sale;
  • Free supply in the course of a business6 ;
  • Consigning and delivering;
  • Preparing;
  • Presentation and labelling;
  • Storing;
  • Transporting and importing and exporting food.

What does the Act require food businesses to do?

In summary, food businesses must ensure that they comply with the Act by not:

  • Rendering food injurious to health;
  • Selling food which is not of nature or substance or quality demanded to the purchaser’s prejudice
  • Falsely describing or presenting food

The Main Offences

What are the main offences under the Food Safety Act?

The main offences are:

  • Rendering food injurious to health;
  • Selling, to the purchaser’s prejudice, food which is not of nature or substance or quality demanded;
  • And falsely or misleadingly describing or presenting food

What penalties can be imposed under the Act?

The courts decide the level of penalties depending on the circumstances of each case, but the Act sets the maximum penalties available to the courts.

  • For offences in England and Wales (other than obstruction and related offences), Crown courts may send offenders to prison for up to two years and/or impose unlimited fines.
  • Magistrates’ courts may impose a fine of up to £5,000 per offence and/or a prison sentence of up to six months.
  • For offences under sections 7 and 14 of the Act, the maximum fine a magistrates’ court may set for each offence is £20,000. There are also penalties for obstructing an authorised officer.
  • In Scotland, the Sheriff court has a maximum sentence of 12 months and there is a statutory maximum fine of £10,000.

Regulations made under the Act may set their own level of penalties which will not exceed those listed above.

Enforcing The Act

Who enforces the Act?

The day-to-day work of enforcement is, in the main, the responsibility of environmental health practitioners and trading standards officers from local (food) authorities. The Food Standards Agency enforces some regulations made under the Act (for example, licensing of irradiated food facilities) and has scope to become involved in certain emergency situations or where a local authority fails to discharge its responsibilities under the Act.

How is the Act enforced?

The Act provides that authorised officers of food authorities can:

  • Take samples of food and food ingredients;
  • Enter food premises unannounced to investigate possible offences;
  • And inspect food to see if it is safe.

Officers may also detain suspect food or seize it and make an application to a Justice of the Peace (JP) in England and Wales. In Scotland permission must be obtained from a Sheriff by way of a summary application.

Authorised officers must be given the information and assistance which they reasonably require.

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