Powers of Entry under the Food Safety Act 1990
Food hygiene has once again hit the headlines after a BBC report found a number of takeaways listed on Just Eat had zero ratings from the Food Standards Agency. As well as undertaking regular inspections for the purpose of ratings, section 32 of the Food Safety Act gives the FSA the general right to enter premises in order to perform their functions (making sure the food we eat is safe and conforms to its description).
A recent case involving a meat cutting plant highlights these powers and the potential consequences of obstructing the FSA’s investigations. In the case, following a hearing at Thames Magistrates Court, the business was found guilty of two offences of obstructing Food Standards Agency inspectors from entering the premises. The business was fined £9,000 plus costs of £1,000 and also ordered to pay a £120 victim surcharge.
Dr Colin Sullivan, Chief Operating Officer of the Food Standards Agency, said of this case: ‘The FSA has an obligation to ensure that cutting plants are inspected on a regular basis. ‘Obstructing our staff from carrying out their role not only prevents us from assessing whether the food being produced is safe, it can also be an offence. ‘I am pleased that this company has been held accountable for breaking these rules.’
In summary, under the Act, authorised officers have the right to enter any premises for the purpose of ascertaining whether there have been any breaches of the Act. Authorised officers may inspect premises, processes and records and may seize or copy any relevant records and take samples of food for analysis or examination. They may also take their own visual records, such as still photographs and videos. In appropriate circumstances, for example when an initial request for entry has been refused, officers can apply for a warrant authorising the officer to enter the premises.
Under section 33 of the Act, any person who intentionally obstructs any person exercising their rights under the Act or, without reasonable cause, fails to give assistance or information reasonably required of him or her is guilty of an offence.
Maintaining food safety and hygiene standards is a crucial element to increasing consumer trust in the food industry as a whole, and co-operation with enforcement authorities is usually the best course of action, but knowing your rights and the extent of the powers of the enforcement authorities may help you better defend your business and reputation if you are wrongly targeted.
See also Phil’s blog on food hygiene here.