Hot Quiche, Cool Regulation?

Before setting off on a family hike from the lovely Wooler in Northumberland recently, I was buying some food fuel from the local deli. I was happy with a hot pie but asked for a nice-looking quiche to be heated from the refrigerated section, for my wife. Only to be told that they weren’t able to heat it, for safety reasons and this was coming from the local inspector.

My assurances that it would be eaten straight away, that heating would impart no additional risks (indeed would lower them), that any risks were acceptable to us, all fell on deaf ears. OK perhaps scalding is worthy of consideration, but is something that is easy to see and manage – this I gather was a microbiological concern, or more tellingly an unknown concern.

I applaud the Safer Food Better Business (SFBB) programme that the FSA has developed for SMEs (http://www.food.gov.uk/business-industry/sfbb). I would not want all small businesses having to develop HACCP plans, at least not those dealing with products with a good history of safe use. And wherever the deli got its advice from, I don’t see anything in SFBB that would stop someone heating food to serve immediately.

So it concerns me that either the business didn’t have the understanding (and what else might they not understand?) or even more worryingly, the local EHO (Environmental Health Officer) was giving poor advice, or there was a communication breakdown. I will always stick up for EHOs as the front line staff in the food safety battles, but it is important that they have the training, skills and knowledge required to bring a science and risk-based oversight to food business operators.

The move to Primary Authority partnerships (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/primary-authority-overview) appears to have been useful to provide consistency for businesses regulated by more than one local authority, and is now extended so businesses in trade associations and franchisees can participate. But that still leaves a lot of operators and I don’t see the squeeze on resources getting any better for Local Authorities. Perhaps the FSA’s new ‘Regulating our Future’ programme will deliver the goods – they’re asking for help and I’ll be putting my hand up http://www.food.gov.uk/news-updates/news/2016/15282/help-shape-the-future-of-regulation.

It’s amazing the lengths one will go to, just to get a piece of hot quiche on the run.

John Bassett

John Bassett Consulting Ltd, 19 Devon Road, Bedford, MK40 3DJ, United Kingdom