Regulation 638 – what does this practically mean for your food business?

In response to the Listeriosis outbreak, it is obvious that the government should each by implementing more stringent legal requirements for food businesses. The new hygiene regulations R638 which were published in June 2018 are one of these legal mechanisms.

These hygiene regulations have been in existence for many years but this latest set of amendments are taking food safety due diligence to a whole new level. Where previously the regulations implied you would need to demonstrate compliance, the need for documentation is now plainly stated in several places in the new regulation.

What does this mean practically? The law now specifically calls for certain documents that must be available and kept up to date.

Training records

Can you prove you and your employees have been trained? Regulation 638 now also requires that your training programmes and records are kept and routinely updated. These should be made available to an inspector on request. You will also need to have records of routine assessments that have been conducted to determine the impact of the training and records of retraining.

Medical records

You will also need records of medical fitness. If one of your employees has reported or who is suspected of suffering from or being a carrier of a disease or condition in its contagious stage likely to be transmitted through food such as jaundice, diarrhoea. vomiting, fever, sore throat
with fever and discharges from the ear, eye or nose, you will need to keep certificates issues by a medical practitioner stating that the person is fit to handle food.

Processing records

An important NEW legal requirement is that you will need to demonstrate compliance with these Regulations through the keeping of appropriate records related to processing, production and distribution. These must be kept and retained for a period of at least 6 months after the shelf -life of the product. You will need to define check points in these processes such as at receiving, food preparation and cooking and possibly distribution and create records that must be completed appropriately. An important aspect of the law in this regard is temperature control to ensure food is safe.

The required temperatures for hot and cold holding are defined and the law requires you have temperature monitoring equipment. How will you prove you are using these if you don’t have records?

Traceability records

There is another NEW requirement for a traceability system. This mean you need to be able to show what ingredients were used in what product and from which supplier these originated. When sending or serving your food, you need to be able to track which batches have been sent to which branches. A recall procedure must be in place and any incident requiring recall activation is to be reported to the local inspector and the National Directorate: Food Control. You will need to keep records of recalls for this to be effective and customer complaints that may trigger recalls.

Cleaning records

Did you know that R638 measures clean by the number of micro-organisms growing on your surfaces whether these are food preparation surfaces or delivery vehicles handling open food? You will need to keep records of cleaning and micro swab results.

Corrective action records

We do not live in a perfect kitchen so no one expects perfection – we expect corrective action and continuous improvement when things don’t go according to plan. You should have records to prove you are monitoring these important processes above(and maybe others) and that if things are not under control, you have a record of the action you took to bring the process back on track. This is not specifically mentioned in the law but is in line with the spirit of the law. A food business operator who is being proactive about corrective action demonstrates a far more positive food safety culture to the authorities.

Internal audits

If you run a busy kitchen or restaurant or even multiple establishments, you will want to set up a record of an internal audit. This will demonstrate that although you may not be able to be physically in the kitchen at all times, you conduct regular and in-depth internal audits related to the legal requirements. You can even use a third party to do this for you to give you an increased measure of assurance. These records will be a great addition to your due diligence defense.

Control the paperwork

No one enjoys paperwork but these records are critical and may even keep you out of jail one day. Make sure you invest in a proper filing system and instruct staff to take this information gathering process very seriously. Any tampering of these records should be strongly frowned upon as this is fraud. You might even want to consider an electronic system to assist. In a multi-site operation, this kind of system would provide you with the opportunity for trend reports that will further assist you in effectively managing food safety in your kitchens.

© Linda Jackson, Food Focus

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