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Are We Tackling the Real Issues in Our Current Food Safety Model Part 1 - Training

Friday 5th July 2019.

"Can someone tell me why is it that we need a licence to drive a car to reduce the risk of killing someone and we do not need one to open a food premises, where we can potentially kill someone" This was a question that was asked by my Food Safety Lecturer, Dennis King' almost 33 years ago, and has cropped up a number of times during my career. I remember being perplexed and surprised that someone who was not competently trained could open up a food premise and potentially harm someone. Fast forward the years and I am still perplexed...

Prior to becoming an Environmental Health Practitioner, I was a Registered General Nurse; I trained for 3 years and passed a number of assessments and examinations, the same for Environmental Health. To practice in either profession and many others, you have to be qualified. So why it that the same is not required of food handlers prior to working in the food industry?

Over recent years we have seen the arrival of the 'pop up' revolution; food businesses (as well as other businesses) can open and sell their wares without any checks in place. I have attended exhibitions where start-up companies have made their goodies and are selling or offering free samples to the unsuspecting attendees, there is no allergen information or scientifically proven durability dates, when questioned about this some seem surprised that they need to know this information or annoyed that you have the audacity to question them about safety issues, others have been eager to learn more and get it right.

I have worked and working with food businesses that have strict policies in place with regards to food safety compliance and are doing their absolute best to ensure that their food safety practices and the food they provide is safe and wholesome. Their food handling staff are trained, they have a robust food safety management system in place and they either employ or contract in food safety experts to assist them. I fully understand that not all food business can contract or employ the experts, but should we be looking at food handlers being competently trained BEFORE they start working in the industry and show continuing professional development in this? Will this save businesses time and money in the long run? Will it reduce the burden on the public purse - my answer is yes. Yes, because it would be the responsibility of the food handler to ensure that they are competently trained prior to working within the industry. Businesses lose money training food handlers who then leave, and the whole process starts again; therefore putting the onus on the food handler may weed out those that really want to work in the industry.

The current food safety model needs a drastic overall; will the Food Standards Agency (FSA) Regulating Our Future Policy do enough to increase the level of competency that is required to handle, prepare and serve safe food? Should the proposed enhance registration scheme proposed by the FSA have demonstrable competencies prior to opening up a food business?