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What is the difference between food hygiene and food safety?

schedule 9th January 2019 by Virtual College in Food and Drink

food safety and hygiene

If you’re looking to work in the food and drink industry, or even if you’re already employed, then there’s a good chance that you’re going to need or have already undergone some kind of training. It could have been called food hygiene training; but it could also have been called food safety training. The question is, what’s the difference, and does it matter if you get the terms mixed up? In this article, we’re going to take a quick look at what these commonly encountered phrases mean.

At a top level, the difference is relatively simple to understand. Food Safety covers all aspects of ensuring that food is safe for a person to eat, whereas Food Hygiene usually more specifically concerns foodborne illnesses, which arise because of primarily bacterial contaminants, but also chemicals and physical hazards. Of course, there is considerable overlap here, and in truth, you will find that many individuals and organisations will use the two terms interchangeably. It’s unlikely that any confusion will arise from using either term to mean either definition. As a result, training branded as either food hygiene training or food safety training is likely to cover roughly the same content.

However, if you’re interested in finding out a little more about the differences between the terms as they’re officially used in the UK, then continue reading.

What are the main elements of food safety?

Food safety is the responsibility of the Food Standards Agency. This governmental department oversees the issue in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with Food Standards Scotland being responsible in Scotland. The standards they insist on primarily come from EU law (Regulation 178/2002), but these regulations form UK law as a result of The Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013, The General Food Regulations 2004, and the Food Safety Act 1990.

The general elements of food safety that come from these laws, the government and the FSA (when pertaining to businesses) include the following:

  • Making sure that food is safe to eat. This is of course the most important point, and is the central function of food safety rules and practices. It’s also the one that has the most overlap with food hygiene.
  • Ensuring that food is of the same quality as claimed, which means ensuring that advertising in particular is accurate. A business cannot market something as being different to how it is served, whether as a one off or not. This also extends to businesses in any way misleading people.
  • Recording the traceability of all foods. It’s important that, should anything go wrong, a business can easily identify where all of its food comes from, whether they’re a manufacturer, retailer, or involved in the catering industry
  • Being able to withdraw or recall products where there is a problem, and being in a position to notify customers of this.
  • Ensuing that the food hygiene rating is clearly displayed.

What are the main elements of food hygiene?

As far as UK authorities are concerned, food hygiene is primarily about making sure that food doesn’t cause harm through things like allergies and bacteria. So, it might not directly include things like labelling and traceability of food. Conveniently, the World Health Organisation also gives five key principles of food hygiene. Understanding these gives a comprehensive overview of what food hygiene means, as well as how the definition might differentiate slightly from food safety. These are the following:

  • Prevent contaminating food with pathogens spreading from people, pets, and pests.
  • Separate raw and cooked foods to prevent contaminating the cooked foods.
  • Cook foods for the appropriate length of time and at the appropriate temperature to kill pathogens.
  • Store food at the proper temperature.
  • Use safe water and safe raw materials.

The food hygiene rating system is also an important part f food hygiene in the UK, which we mentioned in the previous section. This is a star-based awarding system whereby local authorities give businesses a score for their food hygiene practices. This must be displayed so that consumers can make an informed choice.

Where can you find out more?

The ASA is able to help with general matters of food safety in the UK, but as local authorities are generally responsible for food safety and hygiene when it comes to business, they should be the first port of call for queries. If however you feel that you, your employees or colleagues needs more formal training on issues of food hygiene, then consider taking one of the recognised Food Hygiene courses. There are three levels to these, ranging in suitability depending on career level. Food safety & hygiene Level 2 is the most commonly taken course. At Virtual College, we’re pleased to be able to deliver all three online food safety training courses. Click here to find out more.


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