A recent symposium was given by Sir William Savage, M.D., B.Sc., D.P.H., Mr. Morley Parry, M.R.San.I., M.S.I.A., Ministry of Food Hygiene Division, and Mr. A. Tyler, M.B.E., F.R.San.I., F.S.I.A., Chief Sanitary Inspector, Bath, to a meeting of health officers and representatives of the food trades. The subsequent discussion demonstrated the divergent views held in relation to food hygiene legislation and the conflict between ideals and practicability. Sir William, in his opening observations, speaking from the scientific aspect, showed a remarkably realistic approach to the problem. He referred primarily to the report of the Catering Trade Working Party and what are generally considered to be the three most valuable recommendations, the most important of which is that all catering establishments should be required to register with the appropriate authority; the second is that a special code of practice, called the Standard Code, should be defined and made legally enforceable; the third is that the existing deficiencies in legal powers as set out in the report should be removed by legislation. In dwelling for a short while on the Model Byelaws which the Ministry of Food issued in 1949, reference was made to the fact that, whilst it is appreciated that they cannot go beyond their limited purpose, many deficiencies are obvious. They have very limited practicability, being mainly concerned with requirements as to personal cleanliness of those who handle food, the protection of food from various possible sources of contamination, and certain requirements as to the wrapping of foods. These are all sound enough, but only touch the fringe of the problem. Whilst precise definitions are always most difficult in legal documents, especially when dealing with hygienic factors, the byelaws are particularly vague, as will be seen from the following examples: A person who handles food “ shall observe cleanliness both in regard to himself and his clothing ”. There is no definition of cleanliness and no subsequent requirements to attain it, such as the Catering Report sets out in its Target Code. Food should be covered in certain circumstances with “ suitable, clean material ”. Does a newspaper comply? Counters, floors, food utensils have to be cleaned “ as often as may be reasonably necessary ”. In the Standard and Target Codes these requirements are usually detailed, and so uniform, standard meanings can be accepted. In addition, the byelaws entirely fail to deal with the essentials of sound food hygiene. As the powers of the original Act were effected long before 1938, the standards are primarily those of visible cleanliness. We know now, however, that clean food is not necessarily safe food. This is abundantly demonstrated by the enormous increase, year by year, of recorded cases of food poisoning, most of it by food which would pass every standard of cleanliness for sight, smell and taste. All experts agree that, in the catering establishments, as the standard code requires, “ abundant supplies of water, both hot and cold, must be available ”. It is obvious that cleanliness to the point of freedom from pathogenic bacteria cannot be obtained otherwise, and sufficient sinks for washing must be available. Neither the Act nor the byelaws can enforce powers in this respect. It is sufficient, at present, to provide a gas‐ring and bucket of water in a food manufacturing room, and nothing more can be legally demanded. Sir William stressed that, if safe food was wanted and it was desired to reduce the present high toll of food poisoning, Local Authorities must be given adequate powers. Mr. Morley Parry confined his observations primarily to the defence of the model byelaws of the Ministry of Food, and his remarks admirably reflected the attitude of his particular division. He stated that, generally, we must admit that, within the past few years, the Public Health outlook of the man in the street has been developed along lines and to a degree for which sanitarians might have prayed, but for which they dared not hope, and that, for once, their opinions did not, in the main, lag behind the ideals of health officers. He qualified this, however, by stating that he was apprehensive of the fact that food hygiene might become a matter of glib phrases and catchwords, and that the public had quite readily seized on a few frequently repeated phrases that are but part of the food hygiene facts. He said that in the present position, at least theoretically, it should not be difficult to advance quickly to complete success. He deplored the entirely restrictive character of the previous set of model byelaws issued by the Ministry of Health in 1939, and said that the era of the sanitary policeman had gone, and thought it surprising that suggestions of punitive and restrictive legislation should be essential to success. He did not state how, with only permissive legislation, one would deal with the recalcitrant trader who would spend considerable amounts of money on a splendid shop‐front, but would remain content with a bucket and gas‐ring in his food manufacturing room; or how the progressive trader would view this unfair competition. In support of his argument he quoted what he termed the wonderful old phrase “ any premises in such a state as to be prejudicial to health ” and declared that the whole basis of the success of a sanitary officer's work in Public Health was built up by their predecessors on this one ambiguous phrase. He stated that the Ministry had three standards of judgment when any deviation or new byelaw was adjusted. The first was the essential practicability and reasonableness of the demand; secondly, whether the demand could be enforced with existing public health establishments; and, thirdly, that the deviation and new byelaw meet with general acceptance in the locality or be a prime necessity because of some specific local circumstance. Mr. Tyler reviewed the problem, and, having dealt with the wide adoption of the new byelaws, stated that this demonstrated that Local Authorities were prepared to make full use of the powers available. He also put some very pregnant questions as to whether the new food byelaws were an improvement on the powers possessed prior to their coming into operation, and whether they were adequate to deal effectively with the problem. He stated that the consensus of opinion among sanitary officers and food manufacturers in general was that the policeman attitude was certainly not enough. The majority of Authorities, however, were running extensive food hygiene courses for personnel employed in such work, the public, and, in some cases, children of school‐leaving age. He cited the stringent legislation in other countries which had resulted in an extremely high standard in food premises, and, although the legal penalties were extremely severe, they were rarely invoked. The subsequent discussion on this symposium showed that the opinions of the meeting, including many representatives of the food trades, were in favour of effective legislation, providing that this was lucid and equitable, and that Local Authorities must have adequate powers to deal with the very small minority of traders and manufacturers on whom advice and requests were wasted, and from whom the public must be protected. It is undoubtedly preferable to have legislation capable of a specific interpretation than a series of vague terms, such as “ reasonably necessary ”, “ suitable and efficient”, or “ a reasonable distance ”, which entail court cases to determine what exactly is meant by them. Such terms are capable of wide variations of interpretation, not only by the food trade but by the Public Health officers, resulting in a wide divergence of interpretation amongst Local Authorities.
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