In an attempt to diffuse a row that has been brewing between the UK’s food safety watchdog and the EC, the UK’s Food Standards Agency has revised its guidance on dairy hygiene. UK food safety agencies and the EC have been at loggerheads over procedures that test for antibiotics in milk.

Last week, the EC said it would commence legal action against the UK because it was concerned that the FSA had failed to act on a number of alleged food safety violations, including the use of milk contaminated with antibiotics, at Bowland Dairy. At a meeting of the Standing Committee for the Food Chain and Animal Health, EC member countries prohibited the import of curd cheese from the dairy.

On Friday (20 October) the FSA wrote to local enforcement authorities, outlining its revised approach to the application of EU hygiene rules in the dairy sector. While the FSA has denied acting improperly, the revised guidelines are an attempt to pacify the EC.

In its letter, the FSA said that immediate steps should be taken to ensure EU hygiene rules are enforced at UK dairy establishments. The FSA said that where raw milk gives a positive result to an antibiotic screen test the business must either carry out a chemical confirmatory test that will identify whether antibiotics exceed the maximum residue level, or reject the milk and dispose of it as an animal by-product.

Businesses using or supplying interface milk, that derives from the start up and close down procedures for pasteurisation equipment, must be able to demonstrate that it is fit for purpose and does not contain contaminants.

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Additionally, the FSA said that any activity involving the removal of milk from cartons must be done hygienically and in accordance with EU regulations while all cheese recovery must be approved and appropriately documented.

At an EU-wide meeting last week, EC officials agreed to discuss the antibiotics issue further, particularly with a view to developing a new rapid test that could detect all antibiotic residues in milk subject to EU Maximum Residue Limits. The Commission also agreed to begin a risk assessment of cheese recovery operations, using the European Food Safety Authority.