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Meat hygiene controls
Meat hygiene controls
The Government has introduced new legislation providing for faster and tougher action against plants which flout meat hygiene legislation and for the withdrawal of inspection services from licensed meat plants which do not pay their inspection bills. This took effect from 1 March 2000.
The aim of these new measures is to boost public health protection. It will be possible to suspend plant licences immediately if hygienic production is seriously compromised. Meat can also be seized if it has not been produced in accordance with meat hygiene legislation.
In addition, the Government is introducing powers to withdraw MHS inspection services from plants which have failed to pay their inspection charges. Measures will be put in place to minimise the risk of meat continuing to be produced and marketed illegally from such plants.
The Meat (Enhanced Enforcement Powers) (England) Regulations 2000 (S.I. No. 2000/225) were laid before Parliament on 8 February and came into force on 1 March 2000. Similar legislation will follow in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
The main features of the new Regulations are:
in licensed premises, powers for MHS staff to stop an operation or prohibit a process, and to seize meat which has not been produced in accordance with the meat hygiene Regulations (at present such meat can only be seized if unfit);
outside licensed premises, powers for local authority enforcement officers to seize meat which has been illegally produced (e.g. from carcasses that have not been inspected and health-marked). At present such meat can only be seized if unfit. They will also be able to prosecute those selling or supplying such meat;
powers allowing the Minister to suspend licences immediately if food hygiene is seriously compromised;
speeding up of the appeals procedure for licensing (operators will now have 21 days instead of 28 to confirm their decision to appeal);
statutory requirement to notify the MHS or local authorities of the identity of plant operators, managers or directors, and of any subsequent change in such staff. This should make effective prosecution easier.
The Meat (Hygiene and Inspection) (Charges) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2000 (S.I. No. 2000/224) were laid before Parliament on 8 February and came into force on 1 March 2000. Similar legislation will follow in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The Regulations provide for the withdrawal of services from plants where operators have failed to pay their MHS bills. Inspection services may be withdrawn where a judgment has been entered against the operator for the debt, i.e. after any appeals have been made and considered and the operator has failed within a reasonable time to settle the debt. The Minister may then refuse to carry out any further inspections at the premises in respect of which the debt accrued until the debt has been satisfied.
The Regulations also bring licensed fresh meat re-packaging centres within the scope of the Charges Regulations. Although the MHS is legally obliged to provide an inspection service at these premises, it could not until now recover the costs of carrying out such inspections.
In addition, new hygiene rules on the production of meat based prepared meals came into force at the end of March. The new rules amend the Meat Products (Hygiene) Regulations 1994 on the production and marketing of meat products and certain other products of animal origin. The Regulations introduce a third method of manufacture of a meat product to be used in a meat based prepared meal. From 31 March 2000, the meat product to be used in the prepared meal shall, as soon as it has been cooked:
be mixed with the other ingredients as soon as practically possible; in that event the time during which the temperature of the meat products is between 10úC and 60úC shall not exceed two hours;
be refrigerated to 10úC or lower before being mixed with the other ingredients; or
be cooled and mixed with the other ingredients in such a way (to be specified in the approval document for the establishment concerned) that the time during which the temperature of the meat product is between 10úC and 60úC is kept to a minimum.
The Meat Products (Hygiene) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2000 came into force on 30 March 2000. The amended Regulations will continue to safeguard public health by providing standards for the hygienic manufacture of meat based prepared meals.
Guidance on how food authorities and others enforcing the Meat Products Regulations (such as the Meat Hygiene Service) should interpret the requirements of the new Regulations has been issued, with a copy of the new Regulations, to local authorities and others with a role in enforcing the Meat Products Regulations.
The Meat Products (Hygiene) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2000 implement a flexibility in Article 1.15 of Directive 95/68/EC on health problems affecting the production and marketing of meat products and certain other products of animal origin. The flexibility allows Member States to use other preparation methods for the manufacture of meat based prepared meals provided, that is, that these other methods of preparation are approved by the competent authority.
A meat based prepared meal is a wrapped meat product (excluding sandwiches or products made with pastry, pasta or dough) in which meat has been mixed with other foodstuffs before, during or after cooking and requires refrigeration for preservation. Examples will include roast meat dishes with vegetables; and traditional cottage pies (minced meat with potato).
The Meat Products (Hygiene) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2000 will apply to England only. Separate Regulations will be required for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.