From April–June, 2023, the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) opened a public consultation on developing a modernized food hygiene delivery model (FHDM). Stakeholders were invited to provide feedback on proposed changes to the FHDM, which were intended to enable local authorities to focus on food businesses that are noncompliant or pose the highest public health risk, thereby reducing regulatory burdens on compliant and low-risk businesses.
In response to mixed comments, FSA will not be progressing several elements of its proposed modernized FHDM, and other elements will be progressed with changes to make the scheme more efficient and effective. Elements of the proposed developments which would require piloting, or significant management information system (MIS) changes, will not be progressed.
Specifically, the proposed modernized intervention rating scheme, involving intervention scoring and planned official control frequencies based on a decision matrix approach, will not be progressed, because local authorities (LAs) reported that they are already focusing on high-risk and noncompliant businesses out of necessity due to a lack of resources. Other challenges were also highlighted by stakeholders, such as implementation timelines, LA MIS alignment costs, consistency of risk scoring by LAs, communication to stakeholders about proposed changes, funding to implement the proposed changes, producing LA foodservice plans, and how the proposed changes would align with the existing Food Standards model.
Additionally, stakeholders expressed concerns with the proposed development for introducing flexibilities as to who can undertake official controls and other official activities. Issues underlined by respondents included implementation timelines for the modernized model, lack of LA resources, competency of officers, competency assessment challenges, funding to implement proposed changes to LA MIS alignment costs, and communication to stakeholders regarding proposed changes.
Feedback from the consultation also highlighted alternative approaches to enhance the existing FHDM. The broader FSA Achieving Business Compliance (ABC) Program aims to modernize the UK food regulatory system as a whole, which may consider longer-term reforms in some of the areas brought up by respondents. The agency would execute such changes in collaboration with stakeholders.
Originally, FSA planned for the next step in the implementation of the proposed modernized FHDM to be a pilot phase. However, in light of the consultation feedback and FSA’s subsequent revised approach, the agency will not move forward with the planned pilot. Specifically, the proposed amended approach for each proposal is as follows.
Proposed Development 1
The first proposed development undergoing significant changes from FSA’s original plan is the modernized food hygiene intervention rating scheme including a decision matrix to determine the appropriate frequency of controls based on the risk posed by a food business establishment.
Stakeholders provided a mixed response to Proposed Development 1. A number of concerns were raised regarding the proposed food hygiene intervention scoring and planned official control frequencies (the decision matrix approach). Therefore, FSA will not progress development of these elements of the proposal. However, FSA will continue to explore the potential development and viability of certain amendments, including the provision of clarification and guidance on:
- The scoring of the provision of food to vulnerable risk groups under the current intervention rating scheme
- A score of 15 for confidence in management
- Assessment of allergens by LAs during inspections
- The assessment of food safety culture, where appropriate.
FSA will consider what changes are needed to the Food Law Code of Practice (the Code) and Food Law Practice Guidance (the Practice Guidance) to achieve the retained proposed amendments. If MIS changes are required that are not covered under current MIS contracts, the agency will assess the costs of introducing the amendments and consider the approach ahead of any consultation on potential amendments to the code.
Proposed Development 2
The second proposed development that will change in response to stakeholder comments is the updated risk-based approach to the timescales (where not prescribed in legislation) for initial official controls of new food establishments, and undertaking due official controls. Although there were mixed opinions on the detail of Proposed Development 2, there was also broad support for the triaging and prioritization of new food businesses and due official controls.
FSA will consider what changes are needed to the Code and Practice Guidance to achieve the aforementioned triaging and prioritization. Feedback from the consultation will be considered when developing and refining the proposal. Again, if MIS changes are required that are not covered under current MIS contracts, the agency will assess the costs of introducing this proposal and consider the approach ahead of any consultation on potential Code amendments.
Feedback from the consultation indicated the need to develop FSA’s online Register a Food Business (RAFB) system to support increased data collection, which would help local authorities with triaging newly registered businesses. Following the review of the Code and Practice Guidance, consideration will be given to any future development to support changes to the Code.
Proposed Development 3
The third proposed development to be amended is the increase of flexibility as to the methods and techniques of official controls that can be used to risk rate an establishment, including the appropriate use of remote official controls.
There was a mixed response regarding increased flexibility as to the methods and techniques of official controls. The introduction of the proposed flexibilities were welcomed with regards to balance, including the use of remote assessment in suitable circumstances. FSA will conduct work to develop and refine the proposal to address some of the concerns raised and limitations suggested by stakeholders. The agency will consider what changes are needed to the Code and Practice Guidance to introduce appropriate flexibilities ahead of any consultation on potential Code amendments.
Proposed Development 4
Finally, FSA will amend the a fourth proposed development, which involves extending the activities that certain officers who do not hold a “suitable” qualification for food hygiene can undertake if they are competent, such as Regulatory Support Officers (RSOs).
There was a mixed response to extending the activities of officers who do not hold a “suitable” qualification; however, FSA will continue to explore the expansion of activities such officers can undertake, which would have significant benefits for some LAs. Further consideration will be given to additional limitations, controls, and training that may be required in order to mitigate the concerns raised by stakeholders. A review of the Code, Practice Guidance, and Competency Framework will be undertaken ahead of any consultation on potential Code amendments.