The guidelines assess the microbiological safety of ready-to-eat foods at any point in the retail chain, e.g. retail, catering, wholesale, and port of entry (including food components such as herbs and spices). While they do not take precedence over microbiological criteria within European or national legislation they complement legally enforceable standards and provide an indication of the microbiological safety for foods where standards currently do not exist.
The Health Protection Agency (HPA) and Local Government (LG) Regulation (previously Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services, or LACORS) implement a national programme of co-ordinated food studies in partnership with local authorities and local authority food liaison groups. The programme focuses on foods of concern associated with: food production; the food service sector; and retail foods that are identified by environmental health officers and HPA public health microbiologists. These studies provide national data on the microbiological safety of ready-to-eat food and also on raw food samples examined within the UK. These studies also create national information on important areas where there may be a specific risk, such as butcher shop hygiene, salad vegetables, shell eggs, and spices. The purpose of food surveillance studies is also to develop ways of targeting specific food hygiene problems and investigating ways of monitoring and improvement.
The Microbiological Food Sampling Programme is currently conducting a number of studies, details of which can be found via the links on this page.