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The roots of International Food Safety Law

Updated: Jan 4, 2023

Gerry Skews - Arbite Consulting

Most food safety systems generally refer to a single source of information and reference and while many national systems have "variances" and "interpretations" legal flow mostly comes from the fountain of knowledge which is an organisation called the Codex Alimentarius. (Food Code)

The Codex is managed by the Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) as part of the United Nations, Codex has 188 nation members and 1 Member Organisation (EU) who contribute to and from the Codex.

Arbite Food Safety Blog - Codex Alimentarius

The single fact that supports the efficacy and integrity of the Codex is that it is evidenced based. That means the underlying principles are based in science not politics. Supporting reasons why this organisation is the most important reference in the world on food safety is the sheer extent of the data held, the establishment and management of international standards and definitions, the support of scientific research and the quality of the information published. More recently the codex has enhanced its relationship with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to promote international trading of food under safer regulations and practices and the World Health Organisation (WHO) with respect too food safety. More information on Codex can be found at

Food Safety Law in Europe & the UK

Prior to the exit of the UK from the EU on the 31st January 2020 the laws that governed the production and safety of UK food were implemented and managed by the European Union.

For reference the regulation is as follows:

REGULATION (EC) No 178/2002 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 28 January2002 laying down the general principles and requirements of food law, establishing the European Food SafetyAuthorityand laying down procedures in matters of food safety

The latest document in English covering the European Regulation can be found

The UK is among the leading countries in the world engaged in scientific research into food safety, food sciences, and human health. World class institutes, agencies and organisations such as Quadram (Formally Food Research Institute) continue as pre-eminant centers of excellence and feed the UK regulatory and compliance furnace with important fuel.

In the UK the law is now more devolved, accordingly we shall focus on the law as it relates to England, Wales & Scotland. It is perfectly well summarised on the Food Standards Agency website as detailed below.

England and Wales and Scotland

The Food Safety Act 1990 (as amended) provides the framework for all food legislation in the England, Wales and Scotland. The main responsibilities for all food businesses covered by the Act are to ensure that:

  • businesses do not include anything in food, remove anything from food or treat food in any way which means it would be damaging to the health of people eating it

  • the food businesses serve or sell is of the nature, substance or quality which consumers would expect

  • the food is labelled, advertised and presented in a way that is not false or misleading

The Foods Standards Agency

Arbite Food Safety Blog FSA

The FSA is the regulatory authority charged with implementation and management of food safety in the UK. It is an agency established by Act of Parliament Food Standards Act 1999 and has far reaching and wide ranging powers including those of arrest and prosecution. There are several advantages with understanding what the FSA do and using the information they produce, there is direct advice and guidance on specific business sectors, the Alerts and Notifications they produce are extremely useful as a guide to governance and due care and the most important thing is that you can trust the information that is published by them.

A closer look at UK Regulations

The biggest problem in setting up and managing a food business in the UK (other than the financial wisdom of such a move) is the sheer volume of legislation that exists to protect the public. It really is not reasonable or practical to know chapter & verse on every aspect of the law. As previously mentioned, The Food Safety Act 1990 sets out the fundamental framework of the legal requirements and it is this law that is most likely quoted if things go wrong. There are however a few simple rules to follow that will demonstrate compliance and dilligence. Our goal in producing food for sale in the UK is completely different from that of producing it in our own kitchen for our friends and family. Poison the family you might, but if you sell a curry that gives a customer a deii belly you could find yourself in serious trouble. The biggest complaint heard amongst food vendors is that the regulations are far too onerous, the problem is that the regulations have to be set so that the most negligent can be caught and stopped. (Fix the weakest link)

A good source of data relating to food safety in the UK can be found on the governments' own web site This gives clear guidelines on Food Safety & Allergens, Hygiene, Inspections and Reporting. It doesnt matter who or what you are, if you are involved in providing food to customers in the UK you have a duty of responsibility to make sure what you sell to people is safe.

Ignorance is no excuse, an open mind and awareness of food safety basics and an appreciation of the regulations that apply is all you need to operate a safe food business. The more complex the food process the more dilligent you need to be.

As mentioned The Food Safety Act is the final arbiter of the Law in the UK. It is a pretty weighty document the Whole act of Parliament appears via hyperlinks below.

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