Food safety law & church activities

Food provided by churches is subject to food law and must be safe to eat.

Written by David Osborne, Breckland Council

Food law can be difficult to understand, and applies regardless of whether food is provided free or for profit. Fortunately there are exemptions for many church activities – often determined by whether registration is required.

What is food registration?

Registration with the Council as a ‘food establishment’ is a simple one-off, process and required 28 days before first use. The need to register is based on ‘the frequency’ and ‘nature’ of the activity. This is open to interpretation:

Registration may not be required for:

  • Church services, followed by tea and biscuits
  • A fete, Lent lunch, or ‘quiz & chips’
  • Bacon rolls served at Messy Church
  • Foodbank collections
  • Refreshments during concerts or film shows.

Registration may be required for:

  • A luncheon club
  • A community shop or café
  • Hot food regularly served to homeless or vulnerable people.

Do I need to be trained?

Contrary to popular belief, the Law does not require everyone to attend a food safety course every four years. It simply requires training and supervision appropriate to the food handling undertaken. This is not defined. So churches should take a sensible approach. For low risk activities, one person might take the lead and ensure that everyone knows what they should be doing. With higher risk foods, formal training of some volunteers is sensible, which can be cascaded to others.

Managing food safety

Food law requires an understanding and management of risks to ensure the food is safe to eat. So think about:

  • What can go wrong?
  • How might it go wrong?
  • What should I do to keep the food safe?

This can be challenging where facilities are shared with mice, bats or swarms of insects! It sounds complicated, but often simple steps are enough – sanitising work areas, maintaining correct temperatures and not preparing too far in advance.

Use simple checklists for low risk foods, and for higher risk activities, the Food Standards Agency has developed ‘Safer Food Better Business’ for caterers, www.food.gov.uk/business-guidance/safer-food-better-business

What about allergens?

Make sure you know what ingredients have been used, just in case someone with an allergy asks. Never guess, because the consequences can be serious.

Where can I get more help?

If in doubt, ask the Food Safety Team at your District or City Council. Alternatively, contact David Osborne on osborne475@gmail.com