Minimising risks and civil claims arising from the supply of food and beverages

Insight

Published

18 May 2022

It is understandable that cricket clubs will be concerned about civil claims against them arising from food poisoning or an allergic reaction relating to food and drink served to a club member or member of the public. Food provided must be safe to consume and will be deemed unsafe to consumers with allergens if key allergen information is not provided.

The Food Safety Regulations placed upon amateur sports clubs are dependent upon whether the club’s activities constitute a ‘food business’. However, regardless as to this status, clubs will need to ensure that good hygiene and allergen risks are addressed to minimise risks. 

What is a food business?

A food business is anyone preparing, cooking, storing, handling, distributing, supplying or selling food. As many clubs rely upon selling food and beverage for sustainability their activities will fit within this wide- ranging category.

All food businesses need to be registered with their local authority who may inspect the premises. See www.gov.uk/food-business-registration

Voluntary provision of food and beverages

Cricket clubs often rely on voluntary help to deliver their food and beverage operation, with the players’ family members preparing and serving food and drinks on match days. It is not always clear if this requires registration. The guidance confirms that registration is required for activities where food is supplied on a ‘regular’ and ‘organised’ basis, whether food is given away or sold.

The guidance document issued by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) applicable to this situation is the ‘Guidance on the Application of EU Food Hygiene Law to Community and Charity Food Provision – March 2016’. This guidance can be accessed on the FSA website www.food.gov.uk. This guidance gives specific examples of community/amateur sports club activities relating to the provision of food and drink which are likely to require registration with the local authority, and those activities which are unlikely to require registration.

Food Safety Regulations

The FSA issues guidance upon how to register and set up a food business, together with very detailed advice upon food safety management procedures, food hygiene and dealing with allergen risks. They also provide free and easily accessible online training.

See: www.food.gov.uk/business-guidance.

Minimising the risks of food poisoning claims

Food poisoning occurs when you ingest food or beverage that has been contaminated with certain types of bacteria. Most cases of food poisoning are due to common bacteria such as Staphylococcus, Campylobacter or E-coli, amongst others. The different bacteria have different incubation periods once ingested and it can take a matter of days or weeks to present food poisoning symptoms.

The regulations place specific requirements on food businesses whether for profit or not, carrying out any of the activities related to any stage of production,    processing and distribution of food. The regulations confirm the requirement to register, comply with hygiene requirements and keep documented, food safety management procedures based on Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point principles (HACCP) which is a systemic preventative approach to food safety.

The focus of the regulations/principles is upon temperature-control requirements, food handling and food hygiene training for staff, to prevent bacteria developing and/or contaminating food so as to make it unsafe or unfit to eat. As a food business serving hot and cold meals on site there will be a need for compliance with temperature-control of certain foods from receipt, during storage, preparation (including cross- contamination) and service of the food. Members of staff need to hold appropriate food hygiene certificates and have high standards of personal hygiene.

Details of these requirements are set out at www.food.gov.uk/business-guidance which also provides Safer Food, Better Business (SFBB) packs, giving information, tools and guidance on compliance with the regulations.

But what if registration is not required? The FSA makes it clear www.gov.uk/safety-hygiene that steps still need to be taken to ensure food is safe to eat and have issued a list of practical steps which should be taken including:

  • Using the SFBB packs to determine what foods are more likely to cause food poisoning than others, eg. cooked sliced meats, soft cheeses, shellfish and pâté and following the guidance.
  • Checking and following use-by dates.
  • Properly cooking food.
  • Keeping food out of the fridge for the shortest time possible. Ensuring that sandwich fillings served as part of a buffet are not left out of the fridge for more than 4 hours.
  • Ensuring homemade cake providers follow recipes from reputable sources, follow good hygiene/cleaning advice and comply with refrigeration, if so required.
  • Storing cakes in a clean sealable container, away from raw food.
  • Avoiding cross-contamination of raw and cooked food.

Provision of suitable refrigeration at the club to keep food suitably cold prior to service will reduce the risks of food poisoning and the refrigeration temperature should be regularly checked and recorded to ensure it is below 5 degrees centigrade. Most harmful bacteria grow at temperatures above 8 degrees centigrade.

The FSA website provides guidance and training on food hygiene at home and risks could be reduced further by asking and ensuring those providing food to consider the advice and undertake the training offered on the website.

Minimising the risks of food allergy claims

Food allergies occur when the body’s immune system mistakenly develops an antibody to ‘fight off’ a specific food. When the food is eaten, it triggers a response/release of chemicals in the body which can cause various symptoms such as a rash, wheezing, itching, swelling of the face and, in more serious cases, anaphylaxis. As stated above, food should be safe to eat, however the food product would be deemed defective/of unsatisfactory quality if an allergic consumer is not properly informed or warned that it contains particular allergens.

All food businesses must inform consumers if they use any of what have been identified as the most potent and prevalent allergens. There are 14 listed allergens which must be addressed if they are ingredients in the food and drink provided by the food business:

1

Celery

8

Molluscs (e.g. mussels and oysters)

2

Cereals containing gluten (eg. Barley and oats)

9

Mustard

3

Crustaceans (eg. prawns, crabs and lobsters)

10

Peanuts

4

Eggs

11

Sesame

5

Fish

12

Soybeans

6

Lupin

13

Sulphur Dioxide and Sulphites (at a concentration of more than ten parts per million)

7

Milk

14

Tree nuts (e.g. almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts)

Food business operators must make sure that staff receive training on managing allergens to ensure they can provide allergen information, handle allergy information requests, guarantee allergen-free meals are served to the right customer and know allergen cross-contamination when handling and preparing food.

The FSA website contains detailed information and free training/certification on food allergy labelling requirements, and how to minimise risks. See the business guidance section of the FSA website and also the following link https://www.food.gov.uk/safety-hygiene/food-allergy-and-intolerance.

Consideration of the guidance, dependent upon how food is served or provided (pre-pack or non-

pre-pack), and complying with the applicable labelling requirements for the 14 allergens set out above will minimise the risks of food allergy claims. Of course avoiding provision of food in this list – as far as is practicable – will assist in lowering risks too.

Ensuring staff or volunteers undertake the FSA online training upon allergens and labelling, complete the test and secure certification will also assist in minimising risks of food allergy claims.

If you have any concerns about compliance with food allergy requirements/regulations contact your local authority Environmental Health Officer.

The legal framework and material available on these topics are significant and this guidance note does not cover every aspect, although it should assist in covering the main risks, requirements, control measures and FSA tools which can be used to minimise the risks of civil claims for food poisoning and food allergy.

Claire Lawlor, Partner at BLM Law

Disclaimer:

This document does not present a complete or comprehensive statement of the law, nor does it constitute legal advice. It is intended only to highlight issues that may be of interest.