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EU posts guidance on food safety management for food donations and small firms

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The European Commission has published guidance on food safety management systems (FSMS) for small retailers and donated food.

It aims to support small businesses such as butchers, bakeries, grocers, and ice cream shops in implementing EU rules to ensure safe production of food sold to consumers and is based on two scientific opinions from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

The guidance underlines good hygiene practices that could be sufficient in small retail shops, saving operators from procedures based on the hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) principles.

Food retailers such as restaurants, caterers and pubs are often small firms, with operators lacking the scientific knowledge and resources to carry out hazard analysis as part of the need to apply an FSMS.

Simplifying the approach
A simplified approach includes the retail establishment only needing to be aware of groups of biological, chemical or physical hazards or allergens that may occur at a particular stage, without having in-depth knowledge of each one.

For example, understanding there may be a biological hazard associated with raw meat without knowing whether it might be Salmonella, Campylobacter or Shiga-toxin producing E. coli; this is possible because controls for each group of hazards are the same at retail level.

Retailers must understand that failure to do certain risk-reduction activities, such as separating raw and ready-to-eat (RTE) foods presents a risk but there is no requirement to understand or apply risk ranking and allergens are treated separately, as opposed to a chemical hazard.

Each food business should do a hazard analysis by developing a flow diagram. It should represent all activities and consecutive steps in the operation.

Prerequisite programs (PRPs) are preventive practices and conditions needed prior to and during implementation of HACCP, and which are essential for food safety. They must always be in place and might be sufficient, so they don’t need to be supplemented by additional steps based on the HACCP principles.

One of 13 examples in the document is a cleaning and disinfection schedule and/or “clean as you go” policy, which is monitored by daily visual and spot checks as well as microbiological testing. It involves recordkeeping when there is a non-compliance and the corrective action is cleaning and disinfection of the area or equipment affected and reviewing and possibly retraining staff and/or revising frequency and method of disinfection.

Food donation
Building on EU food donation guidelines, adopted in 2017, the document makes recommendations on additional good hygiene practices that contribute to ensuring safe redistribution of food. This is especially timely in the context of increased demand for food donation linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Facilitating food donation is a priority for the European Commission to prevent food waste and promote food security. However, national rules may exist on issues that are not regulated and harmonized at EU level.

Donation can present specific safety challenges such as handling returned food and freezing, while food that is redistributed may be approaching the end of its shelf life, plus extension of the supply chain to places such as food banks and other charities.

The document lists four additional PRPs relevant for food donation including shelf life, handling returned foods and freezing food.

Groups involved in food donation need to be aware of the different requirements in terms of traceability, food hygiene and food information also, according to officials.

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