The European Commission should not relax international food safety standards for small food businesses, food technologists said in a statement this week.
The Institute of Food Science & Technology (IFST) issued the statement in relation to a European Commission plan to amend the bloc's food hygiene regulation to exempt small businesses from Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) requirements.
The opinion by an influental scientific organisation could serve to stir up consumer opposition to the proposed exemption.
The Commission proposes an amendment that exempts food businesses with fewer than ten employees from following HACCP principles. The proposal arises from the Commission's policy to reduce the administrative burdens on business by 25 per cent by 2012.
The IFST said it has a "strong objection" to the proposed exemption.
"While we appreciate that very small food businesses do not have resources of the size and extent that large businesses have and while in general we support efforts to minimise the administrative burden on business and particularly small businesses, this must never be at the expense of food safety," the IFST stated.
The organisation claims that when HACCP is correctly applied it can be an aid to business, not a burden.
"Small food businesses are numerous, between them provide a significant proportion of food consumed and moreover include high risk businesses with a less than adequate record of controlling hazards," the IFST stated.
For example, in the UK a significant proportion of all reported food poisoning outbreaks originate in catering premises, the IFST stated. These are precisely the kind of businesses that would become exempt from implementing and operating HACCP-based procedures if the proposal were to be adopted.
"Consumers must be afforded the same level of food safety protective measures, regardless of who is providing the food," the IFST stated.
HACCP is a systematic preventative approach to food safety aiming to spot physical, chemical and biological hazards at the during the manufacturing process, rather than at final product inspection.
In practice, nothing can provide an assurance of absolute safety, however HACCP achieves what the the World Trade Organisation "an appropriate level of protection" (ALOP), the IFST stated.
"Food safety management procedures based on HACCP principles are not a 'magic bullet' but are the best means yet devised to providing ALOP in those fields of activity," the organisation stated.