After many months of closure or takeaway service only due to COVID-19 restrictions, the food and drink industry is gearing up for a summer like no other. What has not changed is the obligation on food operators to comply with food hygiene legal requirements.
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland delegate their statutory powers to the HSE whose Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) enforce them as against food businesses. Their powers including inspection of premises and of business records as well as powers to close or prosecute businesses.
All food operators should be fully acquainted and compliant with the HACCP (Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Point) system. It is a legal requirement for all food operators to base the business’s food safety protocols on the HACCP principles. This is the most important thing that EHO’s will be looking at. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has designed the ‘Safe Catering Pack’ to help food business to meet the requisite standard.
If an EHO is of the view that any aspect of a food business may carry a health risk, an Improvement Notice can be issued against the business. The Notice will direct a deadline for the business by which time remedial action will need to be completed. If the food business fails to comply with the Notice, enforcement proceedings may be initiated in the District Court, which has the power to direct the business to comply.
If an EHO forms the opinion that a food business poses a “grave and immediate danger to public health”, they can issue a Closure Order which may be with immediate effect. The grounds for making the Order should be clearly set out, and the Order is in effect until the defects are remedied. While a food business can appeal the Order to the District, a suspension of the Order does not automatically follow and instead is only suspended on application to Court, pending a full hearing of the matter.
While rare, businesses can be prosecuted depending on the seriousness of the breach of food safety procedures. As with Improvement Notices and Closure Orders, any food safety prosecutions are published on the FSAI website and are typically reported upon by media outlets.
At a time when food businesses will be getting to grips with new Fáilte Ireland Guidelines relating to COVID-19, it is important for those same businesses to ensure that adherence with food safety rules remains a priority. We would advise food operators to:
Review all food hygiene systems to ensure compliance with HACCP
Ensure that all employees are fully aware of the food safety procedures in place
Assess whether further training is required for employees
Contact your local EHO or the FSAI if you require further guidance
For more information on health and safety standards in the food industry and related prosecutions, contact a member of our Health & Prosecutions team.
The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.