Trading Standards Institute Advice

Food safety management systems

This leaflet is for all food businesses including those involved in food preparation and production, retail premises, catering, restaurants, pubs, cafes, takeaway and fast food shops.

What is a food safety management system?
A food safety management system helps you identify where and how the safety of the food you produce could be put at risk. It should state how you intend to manage these hazards and the controls you have in place. Food safety management systems are based on production and processing procedures originally designed by NASA. NASA wanted to make sure that the food given to astronauts in flight was safe and wholesome, and would not put their health or the mission at risk.

Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points (HACCP)
The system designed by NASA is known as HACCP and most food businesses must, by law, use a food safety management system based on HACCP principles.

The seven HACCP principles are as follows:

  1. identify the hazards
  2. decide on how to control these hazards.
  3. decide and set critical limits, target levels and tolerances that are suitable for your business
  4. monitor how your controls work - usually daily checks
  5. decide what you will do if controls fail - what corrective actions will you take
  6. check and make sure your system works - management monitoring of staff and paperwork
  7. keep written records

A HACCP system:

  • protects consumers
  • protects your business by giving you records to prove that you have produced safe food - due diligence
  • protects your staff as they can be confident that by using the system they are doing what is needed by the law to produce safe food
  • means that any problems can be traced

Why do I need a food safety management system?
By law, since 2006 most food businesses have to have a written system in place for managing the safety of their food.

You may be prosecuted if you do not keep written records. At least one person at your business must be properly trained in how to use your food safety management system.

If you are a small to medium-sized business, an easy way for you to comply with this legal requirement is to obtain a copy of the Safer Food Better Business (SFBB) package, which you can still get from the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

There are different SFBB packs available that are designed to meet your needs. There are packs for small catering businesses, small retail businesses, and restaurants and takeaways that serve different types of food, such as Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Sri Lankan. There are also versions for residential care homes and childminders.

The system is basic and you may decide that you want to add to it or design your own. You can use any well-designed system that follows the HACCP principles. You do not have to use the SFBB pack but for small businesses it does provide an easy and ready to use option.

How does the safer food better business (SFBB) system work?
The SFBB folder comes in two sections.

The first section focuses on the 4 Cs: 

  • cleaning
  • chilling
  • cooking
  • cross-contamination

These are all key areas of food safety control.

Each part of this section is made up of safe method sheets, which are used to identify the main hazards (physical, chemical, microbiological, allergens).

Each sheet has the same layout, which:

  • tells you what you should be doing (legal standard)
  • tells you why you should do it (food handlers are more likely to keep to work systems if they understand why they are being used)
  • gives you space to identify what you do in your business

By filling in these sheets, you set your company standards. Your staff will then have a written set of records of what they need to do to keep to your standards.

Example of a safe-method sheet from the FSA's safer food better business folder (supplied courtesy of the Food Standards Agency):

Example of a Safe Method Sheet from the FSAs Safer Food Better Business folder

There is also a management section that gives you some basic records you will need to keep. For example, there are records for suppliers, staff training and a cleaning schedule.

The folder includes an easy-to-follow explanation of how you set up and use the system. If you're not sure you can contact your local environmental health officer for advice.

The second section of the folder is a diary which is your written record of what happens each day.

It's a very simple system, and all you have to do is record what goes wrong - this is known as 'recording by exclusion' (sometimes known as management by exclusion). You need to write down anything that may affect the safety of your food - for example, equipment failure (fridge) or evidence of pests (mouse droppings).

Whoever is responsible for operations on that day (and the safety of the food) must fill in and sign the record.

This does not have to be the business operator (often the operator is the business owner). As the business operator, you can decide who does it, but by law, you are responsible for making sure that records are kept properly and are up to date.

The benefits of maintaining an SFBB system
A well-kept SFBB system protects your customers and the reputation of your business and employees.

By law, you must be able to show (and have proof) that you have done everything you reasonably can to protect the safety of your food. This is known as 'due diligence'.

You can use this written proof as a defence in a court of law if you are prosecuted, but only if you have kept and can show proper records.

More information
You will find further guidance in our other leaflets on this website. Information can also be found on the Food Standards Agency website.

Alternatively, contact your local environmental health service for advice.

Please note
This leaflet is not an authoritative interpretation of the law and is intended only for guidance.

© 2017 itsa Ltd.