Proposals aim to beef up plant inspection system

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food standards agency

The UK's food regulator wants to beef up its plant inspection
system by focusing on problemprocessors.

The new inspection strategy would give some leeway to plants that follow approved safetypractices and had good records, and increase survelliance on those that regulators classify as highrisk, according to a report by the Food Standards Agency .

The proposed changes follow the investigation last year of Euro Freeze, a Northern Ireland coldstore operation that allegedly was involved in the illicit repackaging, re-labelling anddistribution of meat throughout the EU. In August this year, a UK court condemned the meat from EuroFreeze as having illegal health labeling and ordered the destruction of 254 pallets.

A review of the local authorities role in the investigation found lapses in enforcement. Sincethen the FSA has started funding training courses for inspectors.

The proposals, to be presented at the FSA's board meeting on 12 October, are a bid by theregulator to reduced and simplify the regulation and enforcement of food safety and hygieneregulations so as to focus inspection resources on problem areas.

Under the UK's system, the FSA is the overall food regulator, with local authorities responsiblefor inspection and enforcement of the law. However, the supervision of cold storage operations, suchas Euro Freeze, is normally undertaken by Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD)veterinary inspectors acting on behalf of the FSA.

Under the sweeping revisions to the system, the FSA wants inspectors to place more emphasis on food safetymanagement practices, their confidence in a company's management, and the plant's track record.

The inspection system would focus on outcomes in terms of improving business compliance. It wouldbe risk-based, using information and the inspector's sound knowledge of the food premises. Localauthorities would be given a range of choices in how they conduct inspections and enforce the law. Thiswill include alternatives to full inspections.

Local authorities would then have the flexibility to choose the type of approach to enforcementdepending on the particular circumstances of the individual food processors.

The system would allow the local authorities to focus their resources and actions on those cases which present thehighest risk, the FSA stated in its report.

The inspection system would also be extended to cover all food establishments, including food producing farms and those subject toapproval.

The changes include a revision to the code of practice and accompanying guidance for the enforcement of the law.The new policy is expected to be completed by June 2007, and a revised Code of Practice and PracticeGuidance is due to be published by August 2007.

Full consultation on the proposals was published on 31 July 2006. The deadline for comments is 20 October.

An initial presentation on the new approach was made to the board in May 2006.

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