An incident is any event where, based on the information available, there are concerns about actual or suspected threats to the safety or quality of food and/or feed that could require intervention to protect consumers’ interests.2
[…] a food incident involving a biological, chemical or physical agent in, or condition of, food with the potential to cause an adverse effect on the health or safety of consumers.4
This is virtually the same definition of hazard provided in the general food Regulation (EC) 178/2002 but with the addition of consumer safety.
A feed incident, is defined as follows:
A ‘feed incident’ occurs when a feed authority or the Agency becomes aware that feed or its labelling fails or appears to fail to meet feed law requirements. A feed incident can be a relatively minor matter or a major feed hazard.5
Finally, a feed hazard is defined as:
[…] a feed incident involving a biological, chemical or physical agent in, or condition of, feed with the potential to cause an adverse effect on the health or safety of food producing animals or the public.6
The above definitions relating to food and feed follow a similar pattern and action which falls to be taken is, for the most part, the same in the case of both food and feed.
When a food hazard arises, the food authority should classify it as follows:
A localised food hazard - one in which food is not distributed beyond the boundaries of the food authority and is not deemed to be a serious localised food hazard.
A serious localised food hazard - one in which food is not distributed beyond the boundaries of the food authority but which involves E. coli O157, other VTEC, C. botulinum, Salmonella typhii or Salmonella paratyphi or which the food authority considers significant because of, for example, the vulnerability of the population likely to be affected, the numbers involved or any deaths associated with the incident.
A non-localised food hazard – one in which food is distributed beyond the boundaries of the food authority.
Feed hazards are similarly classified, but a serious localised feed hazard is one which involves “injury or sickness of animals” in place of the specified diseases.
2 Deliberate Contamination and Malicious Tampering
Where food may have been deliberately contaminated, the food authority should follow the actions described below, except where the deliberate contamination is thought to be due to malicious tampering which, for the purposes of the Food Law Code of Practice (England) means the deliberate contamination of food by terrorist activity, or with a view to blackmail or extortion.
Where malicious tampering is suspected, the FSA should be notified immediately. The FSA will determine whether to refer the matter to the police under established agreed arrangements between the FSA and police forces throughout the UK.7
3 Action by the Food Authority – Food and Feed Hazards
The following description relates to food hazards but the same applies to feed hazards.8
Where a food hazard has been identified, the food authority should9 immediately carry out an assessment to determine the likely scale, extent and severity of the risk to public health or safety of the hazard, involving other agencies as appropriate. These may include home, originating and neighbouring authorities, medical specialists, food examiners, public analysts and microbiologists.
The food authority should have procedures in place to call the appropriate agencies together at short notice, to implement urgent control measures whenever they are required and to identify a lead authority if necessary.
The assessment should include the following:
The nature of the hazard.
The toxicity of the contaminant, the allergenicity of an undeclared ingredient/constituent, or the virulence and pathogenicity of the organism.
The type of injury which might be caused by a physical contaminant.
The population likely to be affected and its vulnerability.
The likely quantity and distribution of the food in the food chain up to the point of consumption.
The ability and willingness of the producer or distributor to implement an effective withdrawal of the product.
The ability to identify accurately the affected batch(es) or lot(s).
The accuracy and extent of records held by the producer or distributor.
The likely effectiveness of any trade withdrawal at all stages of the food chain.
The stage(s) at which the fault is likely to have occurred (for example in processing, packaging, handling, storage or distribution) and its likely significance to the problem.
Whether other products produced in the same establishment may have been affected.
Whether the food has been imported.
Whether any of the food has been exported.
Whether there are wider implications for others in the same industry or for establishments using similar processes in other food industries.
The possibility that the complaint or problem has been caused by a malicious act.
When a food authority becomes aware of a food hazard it should take action to protect public health and safety at the earliest opportunity, including, if necessary, detaining or seizing the food if it is located within the area of the food authority.
The food authority should also consider the use of other powers under the Food Hygiene (England) Regulations 2006 or the Food Safety Act 1990 as appropriate and relevant to the circumstances.
Localised food hazards should be dealt with locally by the food authority, in conjunction with other relevant agencies and need not be reported to the FSA.
Serious localised food hazards and non-localised food hazards should be notified by the food authority to the FSA and other relevant agencies at the earliest opportunity, using the quickest available means and confirmed in writing10 to the FSA’s Food Incidents Team.
Where a food authority becomes aware that a food business operator in their area has withdrawn or recalled food from the market in accordance with Article 19 of Regulation (EC) 178/2002, due to non-compliance with the food safety requirements, the food authority should confirm that the FSA is also aware.
In the event of a localised food hazard, the food authority may issue a local press statement to alert the public to the hazard. The relevant food business operators should be consulted before the identity of a named business or branded food is discussed with, or released to, the media. A copy of any media release should be sent to the FSA without delay. The food authority should notify the FSA immediately if the food business operator raises objections to the release of such information.11
Food incidents that are contraventions of feed law, but not food hazards should normally be resolved by the food authority and the feed business operator, through the home or originating authority if appropriate.12
The responsibility for action at a local level remains with the food authority unless the FSA notifies the food authority otherwise.
4 Rapid Alert System for Feed and Food
Where a feed incident is discovered at the port of entry and the feed is to be rejected, a Rapid Alert System for Feed and Food (RASFF) form must be completed and forwarded with the appropriate documentation (shipping note, health certificates, importer details, etc.) to the FSA’s Incident Branch.
2 Ibid., para 1.0
4 Ibid., para 18.104.22.168
5 Food Standards Agency, Feed Law Enforcement Code of Practice (Great Britain), para 22.214.171.124
6 Ibid., para 126.96.36.199
8 Op. cit., para 188.8.131.52
9 Op. cit., para 1.7.7
11 Op. cit., para 184.108.40.206
12 Op. cit., para 1.7.8