Food incidents: advice for businesses

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The FSA leads on the Government response to food incidents. It provides advice on how to report, respond to and prevent an incident, as well as carrying out monitoring and planning work.

What is a food incident?

A food incident is where concerns about actual or suspected threats to the safety or quality of food require intervention to protect consumers. Incidents fall broadly into two categories:

  • contamination of food or animal feed in processing, distribution, retail and catering, resulting in action to withdraw the food from sale or recall it from the public
  • environmental pollution incidents such as fires, chemical/oil spills and radiation leaks, which may involve voluntary or statutory action (e.g. orders made under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985)

Preventing incidents is important for protecting consumers' interests, ensuring food standards and safety, and maintaining trust in the food chain. As part of its incident prevention strategy, the FSA monitors food and feed safety patterns in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and provides guidance and workshops to industry.

Preventing an incident

All businesses, irrespective of size, should be taking all reasonable precautions to ensure that the produce they supply meets safety requirements. While the precautions small businesses take may not be as extensive as those taken by a larger business, even small businesses, at all stages of the food or feed chain, must take reasonable precautions to ensure that their produce meets food or feed safety requirements.

Actions you can take may include the following.

  • Use trusted sources of raw materials and ingredients
  • Utilise assurance schemes
  • Utilise food safety management standards
  • Implement food safety management systems
  • Gain local authority help

More information can be found in the 'Principles for preventing and responding to food incidents' factsheet below.

What to do if a food incident happens in your business

Businesses are legally required to inform their local authority/port health authority and the Food Standards Agency if there is reason to believe that food or feed is not compliant with food or feed safety requirements. The authorities will advise you of any action you might need to take.

If businesses have reason to believe food is unsafe, it should immediately be withdrawn or, if necessary, recalled. If the products do not meet food standards requirements, such as labelling or quality issues, where there is no safety issue, then you might wish to ensure that products are withdrawn, rather than risk prosecution.

Report an incident

Report an incident online.

FSA headquarters (England)

tel: 020 7276 8448 (out of hours: 0345 051 8486)
fax:020 7276 8788

FSA Wales

tel: 029 2067 8999 (out of hours: 07789 926573)

FSA Northern Ireland

tel: 028 9041 7700

Food Standards Scotland

tel: 01224 285 138 and 01224 285 196 (out of hours: 07881 516 867)

FSA Incident Management Plan

Our response during non-routine food-related incidents

The Incident Management Plan (IMP), which can be found the link below, outlines our plans and procedures for meeting our responsibilities in response to non-routine food-related incidents.

The IMP has been approved by the FSA Board and is an organic framework for collaboration. This means it will be regularly updated as a result of lessons learned from incidents and investigations, discussions with internal and external partners as well as testing and exercising over the course of the plan's first year.

In Wales and Northern Ireland

Since the Board met in June 2014, further discussions have taken place across the devolved administrations to ascertain how the plan can reflect their individual requirements. The IMP is being updated to include an annex on working across the devolved administrations and a revised version, incorporating these discussions, will be published by the end of October 2014.

Testing the plan

Exercise Prometheus is part of the FSA’s exercise programme to test its Incident Management Plan and incident response capability and in doing so test its ability to deliver its role in protecting consumers during a food and/or feed incident.

The exercise tested the FSA’s preparedness to manage a major UK-wide incident including engagement with government departments and agencies, trading standards and environmental health bodies and key industry and consumer stakeholders. The exercise included a COBR officials meeting, an equivalent SAGE meeting and a simulated press conference. This was the first time an exercise has tested plans for a major food and public health-related incident that requires cross-departmental coordination due to the nature and scale of the potential impacts.

The report on Exercise Prometheus includes 22 recommendations. In response to these, an action plan has been agreed by the FSA Executive Management Team and work continues to progress this. For further information, you can email

Protecting and defending food and drink from deliberate attack

Your business

To help food businesses and others avoid and lessen threats to food and drink supply, the British Standards Institution has developed a user friendly guide. If you are a small business without access to specialist advice, the user guide, which is free to download via the link below, may be of particular interest.

Assess vulnerability

The Publicly Available Specification (PAS96) guide describes a risk management methodology known as Threat Assessment Critical Control Points (TACCP). You can use this to assess vulnerability to fraud, cybercrime, ideologically motivated individuals and other 'insider' threats.

About the guide

The guide was produced in partnership with a range of industry and enforcement representatives after the horse meat incident. This was because the incident highlighted weaknesses in global supply chains as well as the challenges faced by businesses in assessing their vulnerability to fraudsters or others determined to exploit these weaknesses for ideological or financial gain.

The guide is jointly sponsored by the FSA and Defra. It is a revision of PAS 96 Defending Food and Drink, which was originally developed as a Food Defence guide.

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