Like many aspects of handling or processing food and drink, various rules and regulations govern cold storage and refrigeration. The new EU refrigeration and cold storage regulations have a direct impact on all businesses in the UK that use cold storage facilities, because EU laws continue to be adopted into domestic law during the Brexit Transition Period, at least for now. These strengthen food safety measures already put in place nationally by the UK government. With guidance issued and monitored by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the UK prides itself on some of the safest food and drink regulations and working practices in the world.
Implications For Your Business
As a food business, two areas of regulation should influence your daily operations: food safety and hygiene (as defined by the Food Standards Agency) and safe working practices (governed by the Health and Safety Executive). These are two separate areas of law which must run side-by-side without conflict.
For example, under HSE regulations, the workplace must be maintained at a ‘reasonable temperature’, typically at least 16°C, yet (under food safety rules) food that requires refrigeration must be chilled separately and not exposed to the ambient temperature. This emphasises the need for high-quality cold rooms and imposes additional responsibilities on employers, such as providing cold storage operatives with appropriate protective equipment when working at low temperatures.
Maintaining cold storage at the correct temperature is essential to prevent the premature spoilage of food or contamination by harmful microbes. Raw materials that cannot be frozen, or needs to be fresh immediately after purchase, should be stored between 0°C and 5°C, while freezers should operate below -18°C. It’s important to maintain excellent records as evidence of your business’s compliance with FSA regulations.
The Minimum Equipment Performance Standards (MEPS)
Under the EU’s Minimum Equipment Performance Standards (MEPS), which were introduced in 2016, regulations for commercial refrigeration are now coming into force and businesses need to be aware of the implications.
The focus of MEPS is to improve the energy efficiency of cold storage units by outlawing models that use harmful hydrofluorocarbons (which have already been banned in domestic products). Energy labelling has been introduced and should be displayed on new products, but as new refrigeration products undergo even more stringent testing to achieve higher energy efficiency ratings, units may become larger as these tend to score more positively in efficiency tests. Therefore, if your business needs to replace outdated cold storage units, you may need to consider whether reconfiguration of your premises is necessary to accommodate larger cold storage.
For your business, it’s clearly important to invest in cold storage that is durable and continues to operate with optimum efficiency even in warm ambient conditions. Purchasing units that display high efficiency ratings can help avoid costly repairs in the long-term, but it’s also vital to discuss your business’s operation with the cold storage supplier to ensure they understand the ambient conditions in which the units will function, in order to achieve best value.
Be Clear About Your Cold Storage Obligations
It’s worth bearing in mind that regulations vary for different businesses within the food industry, so check specific guidance and resources by the FSA, HSE, and DEFRA for your organisation. At MTCSS, we can advise you about your responsibilities prior to the installation of cold storage facilities, and recommend the most cost-effective solution. Please get in touch for more information.