ACRE urges village halls to respond to food safety consultation
by Claire McGine, Head of Communications

Moves to clear up the confusion around the laws on serving food in village halls have been welcomed by ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England).

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is currently consulting on draft guidance on how food law applies to food provision in England’s 10,000 village halls and to other community activities.

ACRE, which runs a national Village Halls Information Service, hopes the guidance will help village hall volunteers who are already struggling with a raft of red tape.

''The guidance makes it clear that it is the food provider using the village hall, not the premises itself, that need to be registered."

And the charity is urging village hall committees to respond to the FSA consultation, which closes on May 21, by visiting www.food.gov.uk The FSA draft advice will help local authorities decide whether a community food operation is deemed to be a ‘food business operator’ (FBO).

FBOs need to be registered with their local council and must comply with food hygiene legislation. Operations that do not need to be registered are still legally required to supply food that is safe, but are not required to comply with food hygiene laws.

Food hygiene laws say that for a food operation to require registration it must have both ‘a certain continuity of activities’ and ‘a certain degree of organisation’.

Deborah Clarke, ACRE’s Rural Community Buildings Officer, said: “There has always been a degree of confusion over whether village halls need to register as FBOs, with some volunteers being given conflicting advice by local councils.

”The guidance makes it clear that it is the food provider using the village hall, not the premises itself, that need to be registered.

”It also reassures village halls that they don’t need to register for one-off events, such as fetes. The general rule of thumb is that operations which provide food less than once a month do’t need to register.

”Where food is provided at lease once a month, decision on whether such operations require registration depend on the degree of organisation involved. We would suggest that village halls tht reun regular food events, such as luncheon clubs, take from their local council advice. ”If organisations using village halls do require registration, each food business must be registered separately.”

ACRE, the umbrella organisation for the 38 members of the nationwide Rural Community Action Network (RCAN), works with RCAN to deliver a local advisory service for village halls, supported by insurance broker Aon (UK) Limited.

ACRE is campaigning for better support for village hall volunteers, who are struggling with red tape, loss of funding and the increasing needs of people who use them.

Deborah added: “Managing a village hall is a complex and time-consuming task for 80,000 volunteers across England. Our network of advisers ensures they have accurate information about the law, training and one-to-one advice and support with business planning.”