Members recieve NFMFT position paper on FSA guidelines

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has published an evaluation of its controversial cross-contamination guidance, which was issued following outbreaks of E.coli O157 in Scotland and Wales.

The evaluation concluded that awareness of the guidance was high among butchers (80%), with 44% of independents making changes as a result of the recommendations. Although 53% of butchers said nothing was notably challenging when implementing the guidance, 17% found that introduction of separate complex equipment was “challenging”.

The National Federation of Meat and Food Traders (NFMFT), which described the guidelines as “completely over the top, overbearing, dictatorial and draconian” when they were first published in November 2011, sent a position paper to the FSA as part of the review.

It has since distributed this position paper to members to clarify its stance on the guidelines. The paper stated the guidelines were one of the biggest threats ever to have faced its members, with small UK businesses particularly at risk. “We are already aware of businesses that have closed as a direct result of the guidelines. Others have been bullied into changing procedures for no good reason. Other butchers have had their Food Hygiene Ratings reduced,” it said.

The paper also drew attention to the vocabulary the FSA has used in the guidelines, which it said were “littered with terms” such as “you must”, “never” and “cannot”. The NFMFT argued that these words gave the impression that the document was “stating strict legal requirements”.

“There is no clarification of the distinction between advice on compliance and legal requirement. There is no confirmation that using the guidance is optional and that businesses can choose to comply in other ways,” it said. The organisation added that this was a contrast to other guidance, which stated whether something was optional or not.

It added there were conflicting guidelines within the document on the use of vacuum-packers and slicers on raw and ready-to-eat products. “FSA cross-contamination guidelines state equipment such as vacuum-packers, slicers and mincing machines should never be used for both raw foods and ready-to-eat foods and separate machines should be provided,” said the paper.

However, it pointed out that in an industry guide issued in July 2009, which is still in use and recognised by the FSA, it is made clear that dual use of machinery was allowed, provided machines were thoroughly cleansed.

In conclusion, the NFMFT said it was ready to co-operate with regulators and other relevant parties, adding: “We believe it may be possible to produce simpler and much shorter replacement guidance notes that would be effective and have the support of all.”