scientist filling test tubes with pippette

The FSA leads on the Government response to food incidents. It provides advice on how to report, respond to and prevent an incident, as well as carrying out monitoring and planning work.

What is a food incident?

A food incident is where concerns about actual or suspected threats to the safety or quality of food require intervention to protect consumers. Incidents fall broadly into two categories:

  • contamination of food or animal feed in processing, distribution, retail and catering, resulting in action to withdraw the food from sale or recall it from the public
  • environmental pollution incidents such as fires, chemical/oil spills and radiation leaks, which may involve voluntary or statutory action (e.g. orders made under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985)

Preventing incidents is important for protecting consumers' interests, ensuring food standards and safety, and maintaining trust in the food chain. As part of its incident prevention strategy, the FSA monitors food and feed safety patterns across the UK and provides guidance and workshops to industry.

Emergency planning

The ability to anticipate new threats and ensure we are prepared to react quickly to existing threats to food safety, the Agency prepares contingency plans for food safety emergencies and carries out emergency exercise to test these and to also test its incident response protocol.

Emergency exercises and include participants from other government departments such as the Department of Health and Public Health England as well as local authorities, small and medium-sized enterprises, and major retailers. The exercises are independently assessed ensuring that the Agency’s protocols are kept up-to-date, widely recognised by its partners and constantly improving.

Details of the most recent exercise, carried out in 2012, can be found below.

The Agency also provides advice on food safety issues to support to the Environment Agency-led Air Quality in Major Incidents project and other exercises including the nuclear industry and other government departments.

Marine oil and chemical spills

Chemical and oil spills can have a detrimental effect on fish and shellfish destined for the food chain. The cross-government Premiam project (also known as 'Pollution Response in Emergencies: Marine Impact Assessment and Monitoring') aims to ensure a more integrated and robust approach to monitoring chemical and oil spills in the marine and coastal environment.

For more information about the project, visit the Premiam website.

More in this section

  • Report an incident

    Businesses are legally required to inform their local authority/port health authority and the Food Standards Agency if there is reason to believe that food or feed is not compliant with food or feed safety requirements. The authorities will advise you of any action you might need to take.

  • Flooding: food safety advice

    Flood water can be contaminated with sewage, animal waste and other waste, from drains or the surrounding area, and so could be contaminated with harmful bacteria or chemicals. However any contaminants in the water are usually very diluted and so the risks of getting ill are low. Also following simple hygiene practices should be enough to avoid getting ill from flood water.