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History of the Food Standards Agency & Food Safety in the UK

In recent years we’ve seen those with allergen issues have an increased voice in Britain, helping to reshape current food safety laws. Food businesses have far greater allergen awareness than ever before.

Food Safety requirements have seen some of the biggest shake-ups in recent years in part due to the tragic death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, which led to the creation of Natasha’s Law, though food safety has constantly been changing in the UK for more than 30 years. 

In this article, we share an in-depth look at the Food Standards Agency, food legislation, and the requirements that make up current food safety in the UK, responsible for protecting public health concerning food in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. 

Food Standards Scotland is a non-ministerial government department of the Scottish Government. It is responsible for food safety, food standards, nutrition, food labelling, and meat inspection in Scotland.

Formation of Modern UK Food Law

Gavel in courtroom

Food Safety Laws in the UK date back to 1266 during Henry III’s reign, though modern legislation began to be formed with the 1984 Food Act. This Act consolidated various food laws, such as the Sugar Act 1956, Food and Drugs (Milk) Act 1970, and Food and Drugs Acts 1955 to 1982. It was then revised a few years later and became the Food Safety Act 1990, which was more aligned with EU requirements at the time.

This legislation became the groundwork of all food safety laws in the UK and is still in use today. To summarise the act, it ensured that food was presented and labelled correctly with no false or misleading information, ensuring that food sold is of a standard consumers would expect and that food hasn’t had anything removed, added, or been treated in a way that would negatively affect the health of consumers.

Creation of The UK Food Standards Agency

The mid-to-late 90s saw a string of food safety concerns appear, such as a major E. coli outbreak in 1996 and the EU issuing a ban on British beef exports in the same year due to worrying numbers of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as ‘Mad Cow Disease’, reported in cattle.

To combat this issue, The Labour Party proposed the formation of an independent department known as the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in their manifesto, promising greater protections for the public and increased transparency. The FSA was first mentioned in 1997 and then formed on the 1st of April 2000, being established under the Food Standards Act 1999.

The FSA takes on various roles, such as working with local authorities to enforce food safety rules and gathering evidence to propose recommendations to current legislation and new policies. The FSA publishes freely available reports which offer advice to the government or detail concerns regarding food safety and food criminal activities.

Before the UK voted to leave the European Union, the FSA was also involved in integrating EU food law legislation such as Regulation (EC) No 852/2004, which requires every business to carry out hygiene and food safety practices based on HACCP principles.

A HACCP plan is a 7-step food safety management system that identifies any physical, chemical, or biological food safety concerns known as critical control points, which are removed from the production process or made safer. Further information on forming a HACCP system can be found in an extensive article written by LiberEat, while a full list of the main roles of the Food Standards Agency can be found here.

Food Information Regulations

One of the most important pieces of legislation that the Food Standards Agency is involved in is The Food Information Regulations 2014 and its subsequent amendment in 2021. The 2014 legislation requires businesses selling food containing one of the 14 major allergens to have appropriate allergen labelling to communicate this to consumers. The 14 Major Allergens are:

A problem with this legislation, however, was that it didn’t cover PPDS (pre-packed for direct sale) food, which is packaged where it’s being sold and before purchase.

As mentioned, this omission tragically led to the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse in 2016. After eating a baguette containing sesame, which wasn’t mentioned by staff or on the packaging, she suffered a severe allergic reaction on a flight to France. Since her death, her parents have been heavily involved in changing current food safety laws so others can avoid a similar situation. This resulted in The Food Information (Amendment) Regulations 2019, also known as ‘Natasha’s Law’.

Natasha’s parents also founded the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation which focuses on positive change in the world of food allergies through medical research, law and policies, education and raising allergen awareness.

Since October 2021, PPDS foods are now required to have allergen and ingredient information. You can read more about Natasha’s Law here, while the FSA has released a helpful tool that business owners can use to check if their sold goods will have to follow PPDS food labelling requirements.

Failure to comply with Food Safety legislation, such as Natasha’s Law, can have severe consequences. In the worst-case scenarios, your customers may have a serious allergic reaction leading to long-term health issues or even a fatality. This can mean the death will be investigated by the Coroner’s Court possibly resulting in large fines or even prison time.

If a story such as what happened to Natasha Ednan-Laperouse attracts media attention, it can result in reputational damage for a business. Overall, the consequences are far-reaching and potentially devastating, making it essential to always follow food safety laws. LiberEat can help businesses maintain advanced food safety procedures beyond anything that currently exists with our rigorous data-checking technology which identify allergens and errors that may otherwise be missed. Click here to get in contact with us and find out more.


LiberEat Allergen Detection Technology

Food allergen rules and regulations continue to change and evolve. Food businesses must be vigilant when working with ingredients that may contain allergens and exercise due caution when providing ingredient and allergen information to consumers. 

LiberEat offers a second line of defence for food businesses by detecting errors, allergens, and other harmful ingredients with their proprietary technology. Food businesses can apply this technology directly to identify errors in allergen communications, preventing the risk of injury. Get in touch with us today to learn more about our allergen detection technology.

LiberEat Allergen Detection Technology is a SaaS platform that provides an allergen safety blanket for food businesses to ensure that consumers are safe and healthy when eating at your restaurant or consuming your food products.

To find out how LiberEat Technology supports food businesses to detect allergens and errors, to protect consumers