When serving food in a community setting confusion often arises when considering the extent to which domestic and EU food law applies and so must be followed. Do I need to register as a food business operator? Do the food hygiene rules have to be met in full? If not, what are my obligations? The questions go on … and on. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has made a brave attempt to answer some of these questions in recently published new guidance: Community and Charity Food Provision – Guidance on the Application of EU Food Hygiene Law.
The guidance is intended for use by local authority officers as well as organisers of community events which involve serving or providing food.
The answer to most questions raised hinges on whether the proposed activity is to be run by an ‘undertaking’. EU guidance1 makes it clear that “… the occasional handling, preparation, storage and serving of food by private persons at events such as church, school or village fairs are not covered by the scope of the Regulation”. The difficulty arises in deciding at what point there is, in the words of the general food hygiene Regulation (EC) 852/2004, a “certain continuity of activities and a certain degree of organisation”.2
In general terms the FSA indicate that the provision of food less than once a month does not satisfy the requirement of “a certain continuity of activities” although where “a certain degree of organisation” is sufficiently complex it may still bring the activity within the requirement to register. So consider the risks inherent in the nature of the food to be provided, in short, tea and biscuits is low risk but a Japanese sushi presents rather different challenges involving more complex safety controls. There are also risks which may be attributed to vulnerable consumer groups, the elderly and very young children are cases in point.
Finally, consider the nature of the event and here a distinction may be drawn between infrequent large scale events open to the public at large and small scale invitation-only events. Adopting this approach the FSA suggest that the following are unlikely to require registration:
- A one-off event such as a church or school fete, or a street party.
- Daily small-scale provision of low-risk foods by community/charity volunteers.
- Amateur drama group serving low-risk food for audiences for limited periods.
On the other hand the following would require registration:
- Regular, at least monthly provision of food requiring more complex safety control such as temperature control.
- Volunteers serving hot soup and sandwiches on a regular basis to homeless and potentially vulnerable people.
There are more examples given in the FSA’s guidance so, if you need answers to the questions posed at the outset, best to check it out yourself. The guidance, at the end of the day, represents the views of the FSA, ultimately only the courts can provide definitive answers, but it contains much common sense and should prove useful on a local level.
1 European Commission, Directorate-General Health and Consumers, Guidance Document on the Implementation of Certain Provisions of Regulation (EC) No 852/2004 on the Hygiene of Foodstuffs, 18 June 2012, page 11, para 3.8
2 Regulation (EC) 852/2004, recital 9