New guidelines to protect consumers with a fondness for speciality cheeses were unveiled yesterday by the Food Standards Agency Scotland.

The Agency in Scotland wants to see a reduction in the number of food poisoning cases associated with traditional cheeses.

The new guidelines are aimed at all those involved in small-scale cheese production in Scotland - the producers themselves, environmental health officers and retailers - and seek to improve current standards of food safety.

They include:

  • improved traceability of cheese products

  • training for both cheesemakers and environmental health officers

  • better advice for cheesemakers on the production and handling of raw milk

The recommendations are included in the Report on Small-Scale Cheese Production in Scotland, issued today by the Agency. The report contains practical advice and check lists to help producers, retailers and enforcers improve food safety.

Dr George Paterson, Director of the Food Standards Agency Scotland, said:

"We now think about the food on our plate much more than ever before. Consumers expect - and deserve - their food to be safe and are more aware about the importance of good hygiene and high standards of production.

"Dairy products are capable of hosting harmful bacteria and the potential for these products to be associated with cases of food poisoning can be high. This report follows a number of food poisoning incidents associated with small-scale cheese production failures in recent years.

"The Food Standards Agency Scotland is at the forefront of improving food safety and this report is a prime example of how we can bring about real and lasting improvements. The recommendations are not intended as an extra burden - they simply build upon existing good practice. We want to work with the industry and the enforcers and will be holding a series of meetings with them in the near future to discuss implementation of the report's findings."

The report was commissioned in April 1999 by the Scottish Executive. Responsibility for food safety matters passed to the Food Standards Agency in April 2000. Scottish Health Minister Susan Deacon therefore asked the Agency to put the report's findings into action.

Ms Deacon said:

"Consumers have a right to expect the food which they buy and which they eat to be safe. This report will help ensure that is the case. I hope all those involved with the specialist cheese industry will put the advice contained in this report to full and practical use so that everyone - most importantly, the consumer - will reap the benefits."

NOTES FOR NEWS EDITORS

  1. The Report on Small-Scale Cheese Production in Scotland dates back to April 1999, when the then Scottish Health Minister Sam Galbraith set up the Small-Scale Cheese Production and Food Safety Expert Working Group, following a number of food poisoning incidents involving cheese production premises. The Group looked at current food safety advice for the small-scale cheese industry and was given the task of recommending improvements.

  2. The Group was led by Dr John Curnow, Chief Administrative Medical Officer/Director of Public Health, Orkney Health Board. The other members were:

    • Liz Corbett, Head of Food Safety, Glasgow City Council

    • Dr Mary Hanson, of the Clinical Microbiology Laboratory at the Western General Hospital, Edinburgh

    • John Curtis, former small-scale cheesemaker in the Borders and representative of the Specialist Cheesemaker Association

    • Colin Houston, Specialist Officer (Food Safety), Aberdeenshire Council

    • Ron Swinton, Head of Food Safety, Scottish Borders Council

  3. The report was presented to Scottish Health Minister Susan Deacon. She asked the Food Standards Agency, which now has responsibility for food safety, to take forward the report's recommendations.

  4. To help both the industry and the enforcers put the Report's findings into practice, the Food Standards Agency Scotland intends to hold a series of meetings with stakeholders in the near future to discuss how best to implement the recommendations.

  5. Copies of the report are available by contacting the number below.

For further information, media should contact John Booth on 01224 285120.