Author: Clodagh Crehan
Section: Best practice
Guide to food law for Irish food producers
This summary gives you an idea of the five steps in food law to be taken when starting a food business. It tells you about registration, HACCP, traceability, food safety training and compliance with food law.
The main purpose of food law is to ensure a safe food supply and to protect consumers’ health in relation to food. Regardless of the quantities of food that an artisan food producer makes and supplies, they are considered a ‘food business operator’ (FBO). To operate a new food business legally, there are a number of key steps to be taken.
STEP 1 Registration or Approval
All food businesses must notify the official agency in their area of their existence, and the types of food they are producing. This allows the agency to be sure that the business is complying with the relevant rules. Most food businesses will need to register with their local environmental health office (EHO) but a food business making food of animal origin will require approval by a veterinary or sea fisheries protection officer before their foods can be placed on the market. This requires an extra layer of food hygiene legislation. On approval, a food producer will be issued with an identification number that must be displayed on foods of animal origin e.g meat pies or fish cakes.
STEP 2 Food Safety Management System
Food businesses must implement and maintain a food safety management system based on the principles of HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point). This is a systematic approach to identifying and controlling hazards (i.e microbiological, chemical and physical hazards and the presence of allergens) that could pose a danger to the preparation of safe food. HACCP involves identification of what can go wrong, planning to prevent issues and making sure you are following the necessary plan.
Before a HACCP system is implemented, a food business should have a number of prerequisites in place, which are basic good hygiene conditions and practises. These help to control hazards in a general way and include cleaning, personal hygiene and training, pest control, storage, distribution, transport and waste management.
Not all food businesses need a system that uses all seven HACCP steps. Some may only require a simplified version depending on the volume of food being prepared or type of food business. This flexibility can be discussed with the inspecting officer.
STEP 3 Traceability
If a safety issue is discovered concerning any food product, the affected batch may need to be withdrawn from sale or even recalled from consumers. Therefore, it is essential that all food businesses, regardless of how small, have an effective traceability system in place so that the implicated food can be easily identified and located. Under EU law, all food businesses must be able to trace food back to their own suppliers and forward to the next businesses that receives it, so one step back and one step forward in the food supply chain.
STEP 4 Food Safety Training
It is the responsibility of the food producer to ensure enough training in food hygiene for themselves and their staff. Those who handle and prepare food must have adequate food hygiene training and those individuals responsible for managing their food safety system must be trained appropriately in HACCP. Food producers can design and deliver their own in-house training programme, use an ‘off the shelf’ package for in-house training, recruit an outside trainer or use an e-learning programme.
STEP 5 Comply with food laws
Foods should not contain microorganisms or metabolites in quantities that present an unacceptable risk for human health. Food businesses must find out to which microbiological criteria they must comply according to the legislation (Regulation 2073/2005). The 'shelf life' of the product should also be determined by conducting studies to ensure that the microbiological criteria are met over the entire shelf-life of the food. Shelf-life studies will be used to declare a date of minimum durability on the product label.
The information that is required on the labels of all prepacked foods is listed in a specific EU regulation, referred to as FIC (Food Information to Consumers). This information must be easily visible, clearly readable and unable to be erased. Any claims made on the food must be in compliance with the nutrition and health claims rules. So if you label your food as being ‘low fat’ or the label implies that a relationship exists between the food and health, you must substantiate it The permitted nutrition claims are listed in Regulation (EC) 1924/2006 and the health claims that are allowed are listed in the EU register at www.europa.eu. Food businesses that market their foods must also comply with legislation on the use and labelling of food additives and flavourings.
More information on starting a food business and the legislation that applies is available on the FSAI’s website on www.fsai.ie.