Implications of providing food for the purposes of hospitality, projects or fundraising on University premises


Introduction:


Following the introduction of new legislation in December 2014 covering Allergens the Catering Department recommends that departments, students and staff seriously consider non food options for projects and fundraising activities on University premises.


Summary:


Similar to Health & Safety there is legislation covering food safety and hygiene to ensure foods do not pose a risk to those consuming it.


Unsafe food can cause serious illness. Far more serious though is the potential for an allergic reaction (such as anaphylactic shock) to uncontrolled food offered free of charge or sold on campus which might result in death.


All food produced and offered free of charge or sold on campus must be evidenced as complying with the requisite legislation. This is the responsibility of the food provider and whilst templates for documentation can be used, it requires specialist knowledge to complete the necessary due diligence detail.


The University is responsible, and therefore liable in both criminal and civil law, for ensuring its compliance with food safety legislation when food is being offered free of charge or sold on a University Campus.  A civil damages claim may also be made against individuals responsible for overseeing the production and offering or sale of any food items. Fines capable of being imposed under the various food regulations are relatively modest in comparison to the damages that could be awarded if a civil claim was successful.


Case Study:


A group of 4 students take part in an enterprise project sets out with £10 start up and needs to make and sell a product and show a profit. They decide to set up a cake stall as one of the girls has her mother’s award winning custard slice recipe.  The stall is a great success and the students pass with flying colours.


A number of students are absent from class one day and miss a practical assignment. On their return they report symptoms of stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhoea and make the connection that they had all eaten from the cake stall. They inform the Local Authority Environmental Health department who come to the University and carry out a detailed analytical inspection. The Environmental Health department are considering serving an Improvement Notice on the University (this would require the University to take immediate remedial action) or a Prohibition Notice/ Prohibition Order on the University (this would require the University to immediately stop the cause of the food poisoning outbreak, or to close the University until the outbreak was controlled). The students who have suffered the food poisoning are considering going to the local papers and making a civil claim against the University.


The cause was staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria transferred by one of the students making the foods, as they had poor knowledge of food hygiene and various control measures which could have prevented the contamination of the food. As such, the bacteria thrived on the unrefrigerated custard slices that were left out in ambient conditions for prolonged periods of time. A claim of tens of thousands could be made by any injured (ill) parties if they missed crucial academic deadlines, or even possibly millions (as a case in America reached in June 2018).

If the result had been an anaphylactic shock as a result of eating something that the consumer was allergic to, the injured party could have died or suffered life threatening injuries (oxygen starvation, etc) rather than suffered illness. If this was the case, a civil litigation claim could reach hundreds of thousands of pounds, or possibly millions of pounds, but also those found liable could receive a custodial sentence of up to six years imprisonment for manslaughter, as has been the case for many verdicts of deaths relating to incorrect allergen information being given by a commercial entity to a consumer in 2018.


Evidence required by persons producing the food e.g:


1.   Record all stages of the production process :- Purchasing raw ingredients / Storage / Preparation/ Cooking / Cooling / Transport & Service


2.    Identify and document Hazards -  identify all the hazards for each stage of the process as above e.g. typically physical, chemical and microbiological contamination (type of bacteria and conditions for growth) can be introduced at each stage of production so each of these need to be considered and controlled to as great an extent as possible. Where they cannot be controlled alternative methods should be sought.


3.     Establish control measures used at each stage of the numbered processes above e.g. raw ingredients only bought from reputable stores, inspected for quality and to ensure that no contamination is present, products cooked to legally compliant minimum temperature requirements, products chilled in accordance with legally compliant procedures and timeframes and transported/stored and served in a manner that can be evidenced as legally compliant.


4.     Evidence training of food handlers: all food handlers should, as an absolute minimum have undertaken and passed level 1 food safety and hygiene (as recognised by the Food Standards Agency). A more detailed awareness (Level 2) is preferable as this course gives a more comprehensive overview of food safety, hygiene and allergen awareness and would assist the University in establishing a due diligence defence if it needed to.


5.     Evidence of acknowledgement of the recent Food Information Regulations; Achieved by either providing information at the time of sale relating to the presence of certain allergens within products, or offering to provide such information.


6.    Evidence allergen management and control by having a full list of ingredients, confirming that items have been produced in a hygienic environment and having allergen information available for consumers upon request.


Evidence required by departments authorising the activities:


1.      The ability to monitor each stage of the process and take corrective action where required. In order to be able to know where and when to take corrective action, a supervisor should have a more detailed understanding of food safety and hygiene (Level 2 as a minimum, but preferably Level 3) in order to understand the dangers of exceeding critical legal limits and how to resolve exceedances effectively.


2.     The ability to understand and assess whether a food handler has sufficient knowledge of the causes and prevention of food poisoning and foodborne diseases in relation to the food they are serving?  Ability to assess whether the person doing the monitoring has sufficient knowledge to monitor these activities?


3.      Understanding of inspection principles and critical control points within the preparation process so that the ingredients and the preparation/cooking/storage/transport and service areas can be inspected for cleanliness and whether they are fit for purpose.


4.      Understanding of critical temperature limits, their significance in controlling the spread of food poisoning and foodborne diseases and the importance of recording all temperatures.


5.    Knowledge of who to liaise with (this being several departments at once) in the event of a food poisoning allegation or incident involving the parties. 


Existing legislative requirements:

Food safety and hygiene is principally governed by the Food Safety Act 1990 and Food Hygiene (England) Regulations 2006 & 2013. The Food Safety Act 1990 primarily governs the quality of food itself. Food should be of ‘the nature, substance and quality’ expected. It is expected that food offered for consumption is fit for that purpose and is therefore not injurious to health in any way (by means of physical, chemical or microbiological contamination).  The Food Hygiene Regulations 2006 deal predominantly with the environment in which the food is produced. It is an offence under the regulations to prepare food in an environment which is not fit for purpose, where the state or condition of the premises poses a threat to the safety of the food prepared and produced there, or where any process or treatment might result in the food product being capable of causing a risk to health if consumed.

The Food Information Regulations 2014 list 14 "major allergens" (as determined by the European Union) that, if present in any food offered for consumption, should be identified and the consumer informed of (or offered to be informed of). 


Consequences of breaches of legislative requirements:

Under the Food  Information Regulations 2014 a person guilty of an offence is liable to incur a relatively modest fine, not exceeding £5,000. This is slightly less than the still relatively low level fines capable of being imposed under the Food Safety Act 1990 and Food Hygiene (England) Regulations 2006 & 2013 (up to £20,000), however criminal convictions under these Regulations are also capable of imposing 2 years imprisonment sentences. However, successful civil claims have awarded far greater amounts of damage. In 1990 a retired Army Veteran contracted Salmonella food poisoning from a Christmas meal at a reunion. He was awarded £571,695 in damages. Earlier this year a British woman contracted Salmonella food poisoning whilst on holidays and is now in the process of suing Virgin holidays for up to £500,000.   It is realistic to believe that anyone who suffered an allergic reaction due to an unidentified allergen present in food might be awarded damages to a far greater amount.  Any food safety issues would have noticeable implications on the local authority EHO ‘scores on the doors’ rating and would also greatly damage the University’s reputation .


Recommendations:

1.      Do not allow food to be served on site that is not from the catering facilities of the University.


 


August 2019