The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has published a protocol on how it communicates food safety incidents.
Under the protocol, the FSA has made a commitment to communicate risk clearly and proportionately to the public and explain to all those involved in a food incident - including companies, local authorities and trade associations - how it will work with them during an incident.
The announcement follows incidents such as the huge and costly Sudan 1 illegal dye recall in 2005, from which the FSA recognised there were lessons to be learned in how recalls were managed.
Terrence Collis, director of communications at the FSA, said: “Communicating clearly during an incident is absolutely vital. Not only do people need to know what the potential risk might be and what they need to do but the companies, local authorities and regulatory bodies involved in any incident also need to have a clear idea of what the Agency is going to do and say.”
The FSA has made clear that the adoption of the protocol doesn’t mean that it will impose a rigid code during an incident, since each one is different and brings with it its own particular pressures, issues and challenges. However, it sets a framework for communication and outlines the sort of factors the FSA will take into account when handling incidents.
Incidents fall broadly into two categories: those involving contamination of food or animal feed in the processing, distribution, retail and catering chains; and environmental pollution incidents such as fires, chemical/oil spills, radiation leaks.
Meanwhile, how the FSA commissions, assures quality and uses science and scientific advice is being reviewed by the Government Office for Science (GOS), under the direction of government chief scientific advisor professor John Beddington.
The review has been welcomed by FSA chief scientist Andrew Wadge, who said: “We pride ourselves on being an evidence-based agency, and have put science at the centre of our policy-making.”
The GOS report on the FSA’s use of science is expected to be published in November.