The United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) is seeking feedback on guidance covering traceability, recalls and withdrawals.

The guidance sets out the roles and responsibilities of those involved in food safety withdrawals and recalls in the UK and provides advice on good practice to help businesses comply with food laws. The aim is to promote clarity and consistency for food business operators and enforcement authorities across the UK.

The document covers traceability systems, making decisions to withdraw or recall food, how to plan for and manage a food safety withdrawal or recall, and the principles of informing consumers.

It will replace the FSA’s guidance notes to food business operators (FBO) on food safety, traceability, product withdrawals and recalls issued in 2007. There are no changes to the policy, science or law.

Philip Randles, head of incidents and resilience at the FSA, said the guidance was created to help businesses carry out food safety withdrawals and recalls with greater ease and effectiveness.

“It’s been developed in partnership with representatives from the food industry, enforcement authorities and consumer organisations and is a key outcome from our joint review with Food Standards Scotland of the UK’s current system.”

Research to understand the food withdrawal and recall systems in the UK was done in 2017 and included recommendations for improvement. This work found affected products can be identified within between four hours and a day of an issue being discovered, but the time taken for a product to be withdrawn or recalled varies widely.

It also identified the process does not always work quickly enough to withdraw products before consumers are affected and the public is not always reached by any messaging.

The FSA and Food Standards Scotland, in partnership with industry stakeholders, food enforcement authorities, consumer organizations and trade bodies are addressing the recommendations.

These stakeholders include consumer group Which?, retailers like Waitrose, Tesco and Asda, firms including PepsiCo, Nestlé and Mondelez and trade organizations the National Farmers Union, Dairy UK, Fresh Produce Association and Food and Drink Federation.

The FSA said improvements will help mitigate risk of reduced consumer confidence in food as the UK prepares to leave the European Union in March 2019. It will also show to the EU and rest of the world that there is a system in place to manage food withdrawals and recalls, to protect public health.

When there is a food safety incident, firms must withdraw affected food from the market and where it has reached the consumer, inform them of the recall of the supplied product. There is also a legal requirement for them to notify the relevant authorities if unsafe food has been put on the market.

Implementing the new guidance is estimated to increase costs to food establishments by £7,371 ($9,382) assuming an FBO manager reads it when the firm has an incident – with a theoretical maximum of almost £1.8 million ($2.5 million) assuming an FBO manager at every site in the UK reads it.

It is estimated to increase overall costs to local authorities by £28,136 to £34,547 ($35,810 to $43,970) presuming all food Trading Standards Officers and/or food safety Environmental Health Officers read the guidance even if they had read the existing version. These estimates are based on number of food incidents and establishments, salary and hours the guidance will take to read.

Each part of the supply chain should be able to trace all the foods received and dispatched (one step forward and one step back). It is up to FBOs to decide how long they keep traceability records.

Ron McNaughton, head of the Scottish Food Crime and Incidents Unit, said: “The responses we receive will help us to make sure the guidance is beneficial and helpful to businesses in the event of a food safety incident.”

Responses to the consultation should be sent to Debbie.Sharpe@food.gov.uk by Feb. 4, 2019.

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Photo of Joe Whitworth Joe Whitworth

Joe Whitworth is a food and beverage trade journalist. Prior to reporting for Food Safety News, he worked for William Reed Business Media since 2012 as Editor of Food Quality News before becoming food safety editor for Food Navigator. Whitworth has moderated sessions at Food Ingredients Europe in 2015 and The Ingredients Show in 2018. Before joining William Reed, he worked on newspapers run by Fairfax Media in Australia. Whitworth graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).