What should you do if food safety concerns arise about your products?

11 January, 2018

The EU’s General Food Law Regulation (GFL) prohibits unsafe foodFood Safety

being placed on the market.  In addition to public health concerns and potential liability to end consumers, substantial fines can be imposed if this legislation is breached and it’s important to have a contingency plan in case any food safety concerns are raised.

Is my food fit for consumption?

Food is defined in the legislation as anything intended to be, or reasonably expected to be, ingested by humans.  This includes drinks and other food supplements. 

Food is deemed unsafe when it is injurious to health and/or unfit for human consumption.  This extends to food contaminated during preparation, the presence of foreign objects and/or unpleasant tastes due to food rotting.  Food is not considered unsafe simply because certain people may be injured by it as a result of an allergy or intolerance (although note the requirements for products to be properly labelled).

Like most things prevention is better than cure, so it’s important to regularly update your HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) analysis to minimise this risk. 

What happens if food is found to be unsafe?

The purpose of the GFL is to protect the general public’s health.  It has a wide scope and covers almost all instances where food is supplied, including where it is free of charge.  In light of this, if an objective assessment reveals that a food company has supplied unsafe food, it must take steps to withdraw or recall the non-compliant food.

Recalling/withdrawing food

If the unsafe food has not yet reached the consumer, it should be withdrawn from the market.  Where food has already reached the consumer, it should be recalled.  The food company should also provide the consumer with reasons why any withdraw or recall was necessary.  

Notifying relevant authorities

Although it may cause reputational damage, there are serious consequences for businesses who do not report instances where they supplied unsafe food.  Under the GFL, food businesses have an obligation to report breaches to their local authority and also to the Food Standards Agency.  Where there is an obligation to notify the relevant authorities, it must be done immediately if the food is considered injurious to health.  It is therefore important to investigate matters quickly and notify any concerns as quickly as possible.

Food companies should also consider whether they have any contractual obligation to notify an insurer about a food recall or withdrawal.

Summary

The penalties for breaching food laws can be significant and you should have contingency plans in place to deal with any food safety concerns.  Any breaches should be notified immediately and significant fines can be imposed where this is not done.  A recent example is where Cadbury was fined £1m, in addition to £152,000 in costs, for putting unsafe food on the market and failing to notify the relevant authorities that chocolate had to be recalled.

If you would like further advice, please contact Tom Bourne on 01892 506099 or tom.bourne@crippspg.co.uk to discuss your situation.