Brexit food standards: How to prepare your business
Brexit will start to affect food standards in January 2021, and that’s just the beginning. Food businesses must be ready to adapt to new regulations in a way that protects their staff, the public and the bottom line, right now and in the future. But what are Brexit food standards, and how can you feel confident about handling the unknowns? Here's some of your questions answered:
How much does the EU affect UK food standards?
Food standards in the UK have been aligned with the EU for decades. This has allowed food companies to trade freely across EU countries with no need to adapt the safety or quality standards of their products for different markets. It’s also provided a consistent framework of standards for trading with non-EU countries.
Once the UK leaves the EU, it will have some ability to diverge from the EU’s food standards. But this could be a real headache for businesses to adapt to. Food standards cover the whole journey of what we eat, from farm to fork. This includes animal welfare, pesticides, additives and labelling. There’s so much to consider, and any change in regulation can have a huge impact on the way a food business operates.
How will Brexit food standards affect your business?
Brexit could affect every part of your food safety and quality management system (FSQMS) if standards change. The way you audit standards, oversee your supply chain, certify quality and train the workforce may all need to be revised.
For food companies that export their products, the need to comply with EU and other international standards will not change. This is big business: 60% of all UK food and drink exports went to the EU in 2019, worth about £5bn to the economy . 26% of food consumed in the UK came from the EU within the same period. 
For those that don’t export, the cost of changing regulations can also be high if not managed properly. Non-compliance can have a major effect on your bottom line, not just in terms of fines but the loss of business that a public health scare can create.
These are the known effects of any change in food standards and regulation. But how do we prepare for the unknowns of Brexit?
Which food standards will change when the UK leaves the EU?
Government advice on Brexit food standards is currently focused on labelling and certification. From the 21st January 2021, new guidelines will apply to food and drink goods sold in the UK, and goods that are exported. These are all available to view on the government website, where they are updated regularly.
As to other future standards, things are a little unclear. We can look for clues in legislation that is currently working its way through Parliament. A new Agriculture Bill is being debated, and it raises the possibility that imported foods may no longer need to match the high standards expected of domestic food producers . This could have an economic impact on UK food producers that would feed into the supply chain. The variance could also make it harder to track the quality of multiple suppliers.
Of course, these are all ‘what ifs’. The most important thing to do now is to make sure your business has the best tools to adapt fast and with minimum risk when regulations do change.
How to prepare your business for food standard changes after Brexit
- Make sure your FSQMS is totally agile
If you’re still using paper or a combination of systems to manage your safety process, then your business is more vulnerable to risk. It’ll be harder to keep standards up-to-date and consistent across the organisation, and vital data – including ‘early warning’ signs of risk – can easily be missed. Using FSQMS software makes it faster and easier to adapt your audits, document management, incident reporting, supply chain management and safety protocols. It can also automate manual tasks, so regulation changes affect the front line as little as possible.
- Get legal expertise
Your business must have constant access to legal expertise in food standards. This is not just to stay up-to-date with changes, but to protect your business in the event of an incident. Keeping up with regulations can be complex and time-consuming, and you may not have sector specialists in your team. Legal compliance software can help you to find, translate and interpret global food standards.
- Strengthen your supply chain oversight
Changes to food standards can affect anyone in your supply chain, and you must make sure you have robust systems to check their certifications and performance. Ideally, your FSQMS should extend to this rather than being on a separate system, so intelligence can be shared across your whole business. This is most easily achieved using software.
- Train up your workforce
You can’t expect everyone to follow the ins and outs of complex regulations. But you can make sure everyone understands their role in meeting safety and quality standards. A safety culture can be embedded across your organisation with an online learning management system (LMS). These use far fewer resources than in-person training, can be tailored to your brand standards and can be rolled out easily across large organisations.
- Reassure your customers
There’s been plenty of stories in the media recently about food safety standards dropping when the UK leaves the EU. From chlorinated chicken to artificial additives, consumers are already worried about the future quality and safety of their food. You can reassure them with kite marks and certifications for quality. And again, the best way to protect consumers from health hazards is to have a robust and flexible FSQMS.
Your next steps: prepare your FSQMS now for Brexit
With the uncertainty around Brexit food standards, this is a good time to assess how well your safety management systems can cope with change and complexity. Our food safety specialist, Paul Hastings, can help you audit your FSQMS and work with you to create a software package that meets the local and global needs of your business. Request a free consultation today.