The food industry has evolved greatly over time. It has had to constantly change to keep up with the demands and needs of consumers. This means that food hygiene regulations have had to evolve greatly over the years too to keep up with developments. Food hygiene regulations concern both food products as well as food equipment, such as vacuum pack machines.
Food hygiene is highly important and has been in conversation since ancient days. There is documented evidence that in 6000 BC the problems of food spoilage and the risk of transmitting diseases to humans due to poor food preparation and storage were communicated. This article will explore how food hygiene regulations have evolved from this point to modern-day.
The first English law in history to regulate the production and sale of food appeared in 1266. This late Medieval English Law was developed to regulate the price, weight, and quality of manufactured bread and beer. At this time, England had developed the skills and technology to formulate objective measurements for the size and/or weight of foods, but not yet the quality. Food quality was judged in a subjective manner, through the means of appearance, aroma, and taste.
A few hundred years later, the early efforts to regulate quality and standards during the Middle Ages were conducted by corporations of craftsmen, called the guilds. These guilds, however, were not set up to benefit the consumer but rather to protect the market. The guilds were also only present in major towns and cities, which meant food hygiene laws outside of these areas remained unregulated.
The scientific developments of the 19th century allowed German chemist Frederick Accum to discover and highlight the extent of food adulteration in the market. He published a book called The Treatise on Adulterations of Food and Culinary Poisons in 1820, which detailed ways to detect various adulterants in food products. This book was highly popular and paved the way forward in developing more effective food hygiene regulations.
During the Industrial Revolution, many people moved to towns and cities for work and this resulted in more and more people becoming reliant on food retailers. It was discovered during this time that food adulteration was highly common, with some foods even being extremely dangerous to consume. This new information, together with the industrial pressure on the Government, lead to the development of The Adulteration of Food and Drugs Act 1860 and the Sale of Food and Drugs Act 1875.
During the early 20th Century, foodborne illness’ became more recognised. This resulted in the introduction of many new food safety and quality statutes. Compositional requirements were also starting to be introduced for some foods. The Food and Drugs Act of 1938 brought with it the first penalties for false or misleading labels and advertising as this had become a widespread problem.
World War 2 meant rationing and food shortages for the whole of the UK. This meant that food adulteration became rife. The Government took control of food stocks through The Defence (Sale of Food) Regulations in 1943. These new regulations stated that any pre-packed foods must have a label indicating the name and address of the packer, the name of the food, the minimum quantity of the package, and the ingredients; and if any food claimed to contain a certain vitamin or a mineral it had to be shown in the ingredients.
The Food Safety Act 1990 provides the framework for which all food legislation in the UK is written. It has undergone several amendments but the majority of the framework is still applicable today. Since the Food Safety Act was introduced in 1990, it has brought with it many additional legislative requirements regarding food safety, quality, and trading standards. It has also inspired new food laws on traceability, withdrawal, and recall requirements.
The Food Hygiene Regulations 2006 is thought to be the most significant food hygiene regulations in the UK. It takes the Food Safety Act 1990 a step further by specifying that all food businesses are legally obligated to ensure that they prepare and serve food in a safe and hygienic manner. The Food Hygiene Regulations 2006 also demands that all food industry staff have adequate training in food safety and hygiene. This prevents foodborne illnesses from being spread via preventable methods (such as the cross-contamination of equipment).
Food hygiene regulations have undergone many advancements but has definitely slowed down recently. There have been many updates in the UK since 2006, mostly to do with labelling, but there has been little change in food hygiene regulations. Whether this remains the case, only time will tell as new trends and developments take place.