Food Standards Agency Consultation: The Food Law Code of Practice (England) Review

Written evidence submitted by the Institute of Food Science and Technology

The Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST) is the leading qualifying body for food professionals in Europe and the only professional food body in the UK concerned with all aspects of food science and technology.

We are passionate about engaging food professionals, recognising standards, growing skills and informing debate. Our members cover all aspects of food from manufacturing, retailing, and R&D to academia and enforcement.

IFST is a registered charity with individual members working across all points of the food chain. We are independent of government, industry, and lobby or special interest groups.

IFST is submitting this evidence because the advancement and application of food science and technology are in the objectives of the organisation as well as improving public knowledge and awareness of important issues related to the production, safety and quality of food.

Chapter 4 - Qualifications and Experience

4.2 General qualification and experience requirements

In principle, the Institute of Food Science and Technology welcomes the proposal that food law officers must be “suitably qualified, experienced and competent”.

However, the proposals identify only very general tasks and appropriate attainments to achieve competency are not defined. With this approach, there is a danger that many Local Authorities will simply deem their officers to be “suitably qualified, experienced and competent” for general authorisation.

4.3. Competency requirements and authorisation

Lead Food Officer
The first bullet point needs modification to make it clear that the Lead Officer has a good knowledge and understanding of food itself. This can easily be amended to add a comma after the word “food” and the words “and food” added before the word establishment.

There needs to be some guidance as to how the Lead Food Officer demonstrably attains their competency to a degree where they can assess other officers’ competency in any specific area.

Regulatory Support Officer
It is most unlikely that the scheme of the legal delegation of powers within the Local Authority will be as low as the Lead Food Officer. He may be able to suggest the authorisation to his immediate superior but it is unlikely that the person who is able to provide the delegated powers will be outside the top two tiers of Local Government.

4.8 Authorised officers

This section should be reworded to specify “Article 5” and then the legislation to which it refers. In 4.8.2 (and 8.1), the acronyms "PACE" and "RIPA" need a fuller description.

The list of competencies should include food labelling, an issue highlighted by the recent issues relating to horsemeat.

Answers to specific questions posed in the proposals

Q1: Do you agree that clarifying the term ‘undertaking’ in relation to a food
Establishment will improve the consistency in its interpretation by local authorities?
We believe this will help.

Q2: The FSA would welcome stakeholder views on how the proposal to consider separate sites as a single establishment (and require one registration in limited cases) may impact on local authority resources?
If multiple sites are managed by the same individual then there may be administrative advantages in the sites being considered as a single establishment. The quality of the management will depend on that individual.

Q3: The FSA would welcome stakeholder views on whether the proposed two-way communication mechanism between local authorities will ensure that mobile food businesses are intervention rated accurately?
The mechanism is not straight forward and just finding a mobile during an inspection may lead to a considerable time to carry out an assessment of the situation, referring to the Home Authority, when it would be more effective to carry out an inspection.

Q4: Do you agree that clarifying the definitions, ‘food business establishment’ and ‘food business operator’ will help local authorities identify activities that require registration?
IFST doesn’t wish to comment on this question.

Q5: The FSA have estimated an annual reduction of 3600 inspections of mobile establishments, do you believe that this estimation is correct?
IFST doesn’t wish to comment on this question.

Q6: What impact do you think the introduction of a competency-based approach to the authorisation of officers will have on the delivery of official controls? Please give reasons to support your answer.
It should, if carried out appropriately, improve the competency of the food law officers, but see also comments on section 4.2 on the weakness of this approach.
Many enforcement departments now concentrate on other areas of non-food enforcement, and carry out only very limited food law enforcement. Those officers who rarely carry out food law enforcement, perhaps one day per fortnight, may struggle to gain competences.

Q7: Do the competency requirements adequately cover the key tasks lead officers; authorised officers and regulatory support officers would be expected to perform to deliver official controls and other regulatory tasks? If not, please specify any additional tasks.
Lead officers etc. are usually generalists and cannot be fully conversant with specific issues relating to certain products or specialized processes. Lead officers should have the ability to recognize the limits of their abilities and where necessary call upon experts for advice.

Q8: What challenges will local authorities face in recruiting officers that meet the baseline qualification needed to carry out official controls? Please give reasons to support your answer.
The challenge is one of working under a regime of ever reducing resources where vacancies are left unfulfilled or are delisted from the establishment. There is a risk that the introduction proposed will lead to a reduced level of food enforcement as other enforcement sections may not need such qualifications and competency and may be seen as an “easier” option for management to deliver.

Q9: Do you consider that the new competency framework model will result in any financial costs or benefits or result in the use of more or less resources for the delivery of official controls?
Please see above. On balance at the present time, whilst the proposals must be welcomed in principle, there is a danger that they will not, in the near future, produce a better more competent officer in many authorities.

Q10: What are your views on the proposal to increase the CPD requirement to a total of 20 hours per year for authorised officers?
The Institute of Food Science and Technology totally supports increasing the CPD requirements, but it considers that even 20 hours per year is insufficient. Although it is an increase over 10 hours per year, it is not nearly enough to keep pace with regulatory change, technological improvements and other developments in that sector. A minimum of 35 hours per year should be the desired level of professional development. CPD activities need not necessarily be by training courses – there are many other types of activity which are equally if not better ways of gaining competence. Activities should be varied to make up a balanced portfolio. Examples of activities can be found on the IFST website.

Q11: Is the term ‘other professional matters’ sufficient for determining what training topics would be useful to authorised officers in understanding their CPD requirements, or should further clarification be provided?
Further clarification would be welcomed. See comments on CPD Q10.

Q12: Do you envisage that there will be a training need for lead officers to ensure that they can properly assess the competence of officers? Please give details?
This is essential. Lead officers should also be judged by some “examination” in order to demonstrate their competency to assess competence.
The lead officer should construct a ‘staff competency / skills’ worksheet for all the staff within his/her section. This provides a good insight into what skills are missing and what needs to be done to fill the gaps. It is also an excellent method of planning resources for the future.

To derive a personal development plan (PDP) for each officer each year is a difficult task. Measurable targets and gains in competence need to be agreed at the start of the year for each officer with a clearly defined programme laid out. The assessment of competence gained after a defined professional development activity is extremely difficult and can only be done with practice and experience – hence the need for training for lead officers.

There are several ways of determining competence gained by an individual (e.g. by requiring them to make a presentation on the usefulness of their activity to a group of peers, or by conducting a supervised/shadowed external activity which is part of their job function, by asking them certain questions to estimate their understanding, and to get them to reflect on the activity to determine how they and the authority have benefitted from the activity).

The lead officers will also be required to determine whether or not the targets in the annual PDPs have been met and, if so, what should be the next stage of the officer's development programme. If the competence target has not been met then an alternative activity will probably need to be set to assist the officer to gain the required competence level.

Q13: We have calculated a total familiarisation cost of £61,915 for local authorities in England. Do you believe that this is a reasonable cost?
No, we believe that this is far too small as £61,915 represents only £35 for every officer affected by the amendments. See also IFST's comments on CPD (Q10) and the role of lead officers (Q12).