Last updated: 16.10.23

Understanding the General Food Regulations 2004

Maintaining the safety of the public is of paramount importance in the UK. When it comes to the consumption of food from local businesses, this is no different. 

The food regulations and food safety laws enforced throughout the country have been created to ensure that any food sold by food businesses is safe for consumption. Without them, it’s likely that food-related injuries and illnesses caused by foodborne diseases would be a matter of concern for the public health sector. 

With this shared goal of protecting the health of the general public, UK food legislation works to keep supply chains abiding by their strict standards. Alongside this, individual food safety laws work in harmony to hold food businesses accountable for serving trustworthy and safe food to customers.

The main food law that provides power to food safety legislation is the General Food Regulations 2004. This legislation plays a critical role in ensuring that the food industry continues to meet its strict, but necessary, requirements for the health and safety of all consumers and that food businesses are only placing safe food on the market.

In this article, we dive into more detail about the General Food Regulations 2004 so that you can understand what it is and how it impacts your food business.

What are the General Food Regulations 2004? 

Working in a food business, whether preparing, serving, or packaging food, or even operating as a manager, means abiding by a number of general laws within the food industry that must be followed to ensure that consumers remain safe and well. 

In the UK, The General Food Regulations 2004 provides for the enforcement of certain provisions of the retained EU law Regulation (EC) 178/2002. The regulations also amended the Food Safety Act 1990 to bring it in line with this EU Regulation.

Many food handlers should be familiar with the General Food Law Regulation (EC) 178/2002. This is a directly applicable EU legislation and provides the general principles of food safety, including:

  • The requirement on food businesses to place safe food on the market.
  • The traceability of food.
  • The presentation of food.
  • The withdrawal or recall of unsafe food placed on the market.
  • That relating to imported and exported foods.

Further to this, the Food Safety Act 1990 provides food handlers with the framework for all food legislation in the UK.

The role of the General Food Regulations 2004 is to ensure that the above regulations and requirements are being met by food businesses across the country. It does this by outlining the criminal offences for breaches of certain food laws, laying down penalties which can include fines, but also more serious forms of punishment including imprisonment.

More specifically, this legislation covers the hygiene of foodstuffs and sets out general rules for food hygiene that all food businesses must follow. It also includes rules for official controls on products of animal origin intended for human consumption to ensure the verification of compliance with feed and food law, animal health, and animal welfare.

According to the government, businesses that undertake activities to which only The General Food Regulation 2004 applies need to be registered with their local authority.

How Do the General Food Regulations 2004 Affect Your Business?

It is crucial that any businesses supplying food to consumers adhere to the General Food Regulations 2004 legislation, regardless of the size and manner of their operation. Without doing so this could lead to fines (which may cause smaller businesses to go bankrupt) or, in extreme cases, imprisonment. 

However, this isn’t the only concern that food businesses need to worry about. The safety of staff and consumers should be the main point of focus for employers, and by following food safety laws and regulations in the UK, you are prioritising the health and wellbeing of your workforce and customers. The General Food Regulations 2004 legislation is therefore playing a role in ensuring that UK food safety laws are enforced, which in effect protects your workforce, customers, and yourself from harm. 

It’s important to be aware that any food business needs to register with their local authority within 28 days of beginning trading. The responsibility of ensuring that your business is complying with all UK food regulations is on you as the business owner and no one else, so you must understand what is required of you and your business in order to safely serve your customers food. 

How to Comply with the General Food Regulations 2004

For businesses to comply with food safety laws in the UK, and therefore the General Food Regulations 2004, it’s important to put in place a system in accordance with HACCP principles

Often used to manage food safety hazards, these principles are a useful tool to help identify, analyse, monitor, and minimise hazards in the food industry. Standing for Hazards, Analysis, Critical Control Points, the main things that businesses must do in order to adhere with HACCP principles include:

  • Analysing all food hazards that could pose a threat to customers
  • Identifying where in your business these hazards could arise 
  • Coming to a conclusion as to which identified points are critical in order to maintain good food safety standards in your business
  • Putting in place control procedures, as well as monitoring, all of these identified critical points
  • Deciding what actions you will be taking in order to correct any procedures in your workplace that are not working to maintain a good standard of food safety
  • Maintaining up to date records of the procedures in your workplace that are executed to maintain a good food safety standard
  • Ensuring that the above acts are reviewed should there be changes in your business

 In line with the above, there are some core ways in which you must ensure that you are complying with UK food regulations, and therefore ensuring that your business is sound under the General Food Regulations 2004. There are other obligations relevant to the General Food Regulations 2004 which encourage businesses to research in their own time in order to best keep their food business up to UK standards.

Keeping Robust Records

Your business must create and maintain detailed records of your actions to maintain a good food safety standard. These records must include details of labelling, traceability, and other aspects of food safety and hygiene at work

This will ensure that you’re following the necessary procedures in line withUK food safety legislation, and also making it easier to comply with any food standards inspections that take place in your business. The records that you keep will vary in detail depending on the size of your business and what your business offering is.

Ensure Understanding of UK Food Safety Regulations 

In order to be able to comply with the General Food Regulations 2004, it’s important to understand it in detail, as well as the rules and requirements outlined by the UK’s individual food safetylegislation. Without having a comprehensive understanding of what is required of your business under these food laws, your business may be deemed unfit to serve food to customers.

Implementing Traceability Systems

Having a system in place which allows for traceability of food along the supply chain assists in being able to identify and withdraw any unsafe food, should this be necessary. Thus, implementing a traceability system in your business not only complies with the General Food Regulations 2004 but also allows for the safety of your customers to be quickly protected should any issues arise.

How are the General Food Regulations 2004 Enforced? 

Enforcing the General Food Regulations 2004 is done by a variety of government agencies in the UK, with each taking their own steps to ensure that food businesses comply with this legislation. We’ve outlined the main two below to give you a better idea of how the General Food Regulations 2004 are enforced, and by whom.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA)

The Food Standards Agency is an independent government body that is responsible for maintaining food safety and hygiene in the UK, with the primary aim of protecting public health. This department sets policies that are implemented throughout the country, as well as working alongside local authorities in order to ensure that the General Food Regulations 2004 is properly enforced. 

Local Authorities

On a local level, local authorities are responsible for enforcing food hygiene laws. A team of authorised officers are tasked with the enforcement of these laws and are able to conduct inspections in food establishments. The frequency of these inspections will often vary based on the threat they feel is posed by a business. During these inspections, businesses are given a hygiene rating which reflects their compliance with UK food regulations. 


What is the Food Safety Act 1990? 

The Food Safety Act 1990 is a parliamentary act in the UK that ensures all businesses treat food in a way that means it is fit for human consumption, free of contamination or defilement. This regulation makes it an offence for anyone to produce or sell food that could be harmful to human health. 

Who has Responsibilities Under Food Legislation?

The primary individuals that have responsibilities under food legislation include the food businesses themselves and the bodies which enforce these laws. Without food businesses taking responsibility for the safe management of their foods in line with UK food regulations, the health of the public would be jeopardised. Equally, without departments and government bodies to enforce food hygiene legislation, food businesses placing consumers’ health at risk wouldn’t be identified. 

Where Can You Get Help and Advice on Food Handling at Work? 

To learn more about how you can comply with personal hygiene rules and safe food handling practices in the workplace, you can contact your local council. They will have Local Food Authorities and Environmental Health Service officials, who will be able to clarify any questions you have in relation to food handling in the workplace. 


The General Food Regulations 2004 plays a pivotal role in ensuring the health and safety of consumers in food businesses. Without it, the necessary steps and procedures outlined by UK food safety laws and regulations may not be followed, leading to potential threats being posed to consumers’ health.

If you as a business are looking to learn more about the legislation relating to the principles of food safety in the workplace, Virtual College offers a range of food hygiene and food safety training courses, including our ‘Level 1 Food Safety and Hygiene’ course which is perfect for those hoping to expand their basic knowledge of food safety in the workplace.