Compliance mistakes are inevitable in an extremely competitive, stressful and fast-moving sector. At its best, businesses need to get their heads around a complex web of regulations and guidelines.
But at its worst, failing to remain compliant can have serious consequences.
Food & hospitality compliance menu for success
Compliance in food and hospitality spans a wide range but can be grouped into four broad categories.
1. Food safety & hygiene
Ensuring food safety is the number one priority in the industry. Several high-profile incidents regarding mislabelling or inadequate labelling have led to a tragic loss of life and subsequent tighter controls.
Compliance involves meeting local, national, and international food safety standards and regulations. The primary laws governing the post-Brexit UK include:
- Food Safety Act 1990
- Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013
- Food Standards Scotland Act 2015
- Food Information (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2019
Overseen by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), these cover:
Hygiene standards & practices
To prevent the spread of foodborne illnesses, food handlers must wash their hands thoroughly and frequently, handle, cook and store food safely at the right temperature, and sanitise food preparation areas regularly to avoid cross-contamination.
Nutritional information & allergen warnings
Providing allergen information is a legal requirement on menus and prepacked and non-prepacked food to ensure transparency and safety for customers with dietary restrictions. Catering staff must also get allergen training.
Nutritional information must be displayed on prepacked foods, including energy content, fat, saturates, carbohydrates, sugars, protein, and salt. While there's no legal requirement for non-prepacked food or menus, many businesses are choosing to add nutritional information so customers can make an informed choice.
April 2022 also introduced The Calorie Labelling (Out of Home Sector) (England) Regulations 2021. This requires restaurants, cafés, pubs and takeaways with over 250 employees to provide food and drink energy content in kilocalories (kcal) on online and printed menus, food delivery platforms and food labels.
Food standards, labelling, & product descriptions
Products must meet quality and safety standards for food composition, additives, and contaminants. As well as allergen and nutritional info, labelling should include a list of ingredients, storage instructions, and a use-by date for perishable food like fresh or cooked meat, fish and poultry.
Businesses must also price products fairly and describe them accurately to prevent misleading customers or risk falling foul of Trading Standards, the FSA and potential legal action.
2. Licensing & permits
Licensing and permits play a crucial role in ensuring compliance within the food and hospitality industry. These regulatory measures are put in place to protect public health, safety, and consumer interests.
Food business registration
Any business selling food or drink must register their business with their local council at least 28 days before opening. This applies to anyone trading from physical customer-facing premises, home, a mobile unit or temporary premises, and online. Businesses with outside seating may also need to apply for a pavement licence.
Without proper alcohol licensing – called a premises licence in the UK – bars, pubs, restaurants, etc., that sell alcohol face heavy fines, suspension or even criminal charges. Premises must also have a designated premises supervisor who holds a personal licence and meets the various laws on alcohol sales – including strict age verification, preventing overconsumption, and hours of sale.
Food safety inspections
Local authorities are responsible for enforcing food hygiene and safety laws and can inspect a business at any time. Businesses that don't consistently meet food safety practices or keep their premises clean and hygienic risk public health and can face legal penalties or even closure.
Noise & nuisance
Clubs and bars – especially in urban areas – need to comply with noise and nuisance laws to protect nearby residents and businesses. Frequent noise complaints may result in fines, restrictions on opening hours, or closure.
Local regulations & restrictions
Different local authorities may have unique rules related to licensing, hours of operation, signage, and more. Business owners should thoroughly research and understand the specific regulations that apply in their location.
3. Employees & customers
Looking after employees and customers is not just a legal obligation but a fundamental aspect of running a business that relies on the goodwill and patronage of both and the relationship between them.
Establishments must comply with data protection laws according to the latest General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). This includes safeguarding customer data collected for reservations, loyalty programmes, or marketing purposes, its processing and storage.
This includes ensuring employees receive at least the minimum wage, have valid employment contracts, work within regulated hours, and operate in safe working conditions. Failing to meet these legal requirements can result in hefty fines and substantial reputational damage.
Accessibility & non-discrimination
This involves making sure facilities and services are accessible to people with disabilities and preventing any form of discrimination based on race, gender, age, or disability. Promoting diversity and inclusivity not only satisfies the law but provides a welcoming environment for everyone.
In an industry often characterised by long working hours and high-pressure environments, bullying and harassment concerns may arise. Though bullying is not illegal, harassment is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010 – and both can intimidate and offend people.
It's crucial businesses have clear policies and procedures in place to address and prevent harassment and provide support for affected employees.
Health & safety regulations
Safety is paramount for customers and employees alike. Businesses must meet health and safety regulations covering fire safety measures, emergency procedures, and accident prevention. Regular training, inspections, and meeting industry standards are essential.
The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the importance of public health. Although all restrictions have been lifted, businesses must remain vigilant during health crises and keep informed about evolving guidelines governing social distancing, capacity limits, masks, etc.
4. Other compliance issuesOther compliance requirements that fall outside of the three previous groups include:
Establishments must keep accurate and transparent financial records and comply with tax regulations and financial reporting standards.
Businesses should source ingredients in ways that are good for people and the planet – throughout their supply chain. They should also ethically and sustainably manage waste disposal and recycling and embrace energy-efficient practices to minimise environmental impact.
Advertising & marketing regulations
Honesty, transparency, and avoiding deception in advertising are crucial in complying with organisations like the Advertising Standards Authority. Businesses selling alcohol are subject to particularly strict regulations.
The government has also partly introduced The Food (Promotion and Placement) (England) Regulations 2021, which has placed restrictions on displaying high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) products since October 2022 and plans to reduce ‘buy one, get one free’ promotions for HFSS in October 2025.
Trademarks and logos should be registered to safeguard brand identity. Businesses using someone else's trademarks and logos in their marketing must ensure they've received the necessary permissions and meet all copyright laws.
The food and hospitality sector is essential to all our lives, so it's little surprise that it has some of the strictest regulations covering a huge range of areas. As health concerns around ingredients and obesity grow, and climate and environmental change affect food production, keeping on top of – and adapting to – the evolving compliance landscape will be key to business success.
Looking for more compliance insights?
We also have 100+ free compliance training aids, including assessments, best practice guides, checklists, desk aids, eBooks, games, posters, training presentations and even e-learning modules!
Finally, the SkillcastConnect community provides a unique opportunity to network with other compliance professionals in a vendor-free environment, priority access to our free online learning portal and other exclusive benefits.