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EU regulations

Legislation and regulation of foods is key to ensuring that you can have confidence in the safety of the food you eat. Because of this, the European Union (as well as other national and international governments) have in place Food Law. Under EU Food Law, food businesses are legally responsible for the safety of the food they produce, transport, store or sell.

What is a food business?

A food business is defined as any undertaking, whether carried out for profit or not, and whether public or private, involved in any of the following activities:

  • preparation of food or beverages

  • processing of food or beverages

  • manufacture of food or beverages

  • packaging of food or beverages

  • storage of food or beverages

  • transportation/distribution of food or beverages

  • handling of food or beverages

  • offering food or beverages for sale

A food business might be a bakery, a chocolate shop, a supermarket, a cafe or restaurant, a bar, or a home caterer, to name but a few.

Protecting the consumer

The statement of principles on which EU Food Law is established includes the statement that ‘European citizens need to have access to safe and wholesome food of highest standards.’ The ultimate objective is to protect consumer life and health.

EU Food Law also considers other consumer rights and protections, including ensuring traceability of food products so that you can be certain that food you buy is what it claims to be on its label. It also legislates other aspects of food labelling, including nutritional labelling, health claims and identifying potential allergens. More information on food allergens, what they are, how they occur and how associated risks are managed can be found here.

Why is this needed?

Several food safety crises in the 1990s, including the BSE (Bovine spongiform encephalopathy or ‘mad cow disease’) crisis in the UK and the dioxin animal feed contamination problem in Belgium, highlighted that better control of the food system was needed to ensure consumer confidence and protection. It drove the adoption of a more objective, scientific approach to risk analysis to avoid the more political risk management decisions that had led to slow responses with respect to risk assessment, management and communication.

The impact of Food Law on how food is made

We have said that EU Food Law places the responsibility on food businesses, including processors and manufacturers, to ensure food safety. This is based on the principle of risk analysis in relation to food and supported by scientific and technical evaluations, which are undertaken by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). EFSA adopts the view that food safety must be underpinned by strong science.

As a result, food businesses use a system called Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) to ensure foods are safe. HACCP was originally pioneered by NASA in the 1960s to ensure the safety of foods for their space programme. It is based on identifying potential hazards that could put at risk the safety of food. Hazards can include physical (eg glass or metal), chemical (eg pesticide residues), and/or microbiological (eg bacteria or moulds) contamination which may have the potential, as in the case of microbiological hazards, to lead to food poisoning outbreaks or might be more of more isolated risk to a small group of consumers, as in the case of physical contamination.

In HACCP, identified hazards are linked to Critical Control Points, which are checks or processes that are put in place to mitigate the hazard. In terms of processes we have looked at in this course, many would be used as CCPs in a well-designed food process. Thermal processes like those used in pasteurisation or canning, not only eliminate bacteria that can cause spoilage, they also ensure that life-threatening bacteria are eliminated.

To find out more about how food safety is ensured, you may want to look at the articles by EUFIC listed in the ‘See Also’ section at the end of the article

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This article is from the free online course:

How is Food Made? Understanding Processed Food

EIT Food