Guidance on the management of outbreaks of foodborne illness in Scotland published

The Scottish Health Protection Network (SHPN) have published new Guidance on the management of outbreaks of foodborne illness in Scotland  version 1 and is available on the Food Standards Scotland (FSS) website.  

This document is for everyone involved in investigating and controlling foodborne outbreaks in Scotland. It serves as a reference when creating plans to manage such incidents.

As part of the Scottish Health Protection Network, Food Standards Scotland and Public Health Scotland teamed up with a multidisciplinary group including Environmental Health Officers from local authorities and experts from Health Boards, Clinical Reference Laboratories, and Public Analyst Scientific Services to develop detailed guidance on how to manage outbreaks of foodborne illnesses in Scotland. 

This document should be referred to alongside the main guidance document on the management of public health incidents in Scotland, produced by Public Health Scotland and the Scottish Health Protection Network on behalf of the Scottish Government.

Any feedback on the guidance should be directed to phs.shpn-admin@phs.scot

REHIS News – February 2024

Annual Forum 

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We are delighted to advise that this year’s Annual Environmental Health Forum will be held as a hybrid event at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh on Wednesday 24 April 2024.   

We have an exciting programme planned under the theme “Resilience: Professional, Local and National Perspectives” which provides an ideal opportunity for the Environmental Health community in Scotland to connect with one another, and to enhance their knowledge, skills, and competences in all environmental health activities. 

The full programme and booking details will be published on the REHIS website very soon.  

Professional Update Events 

Plans are well underway for an exciting programme of centre events and professional updates for the year ahead.  As always, these are featured on our website in the events section. https://rehis.com/event-type/rehis-events 

Southern Centre Event 

The Southern Centre is holding an online event on 22 March 2024, 0930-1230 on Swimming Pool Safety: Expert Advice for EHOs and Industry.  For more information REHIS Southern Centre Event – Swimming Pool Safety: Expert Advice for EHOs and Industry – REHIS 

Winter Journal 

The Winter edition of Environmental Health Scotland is now available in the members section of the website. 

ASH Scotland Events – self quitting research

5 March – self quitting research both events now online

ASH Scotland are hosting two online upcoming dissemination events for a research project by the University of Dundee in partnership with ASH Scotland.

Effie Marathia will present findings from her PhD research on exploring the strategies for self-quitting smoking in Scotland.

These are: 

  • Exploring the strategies for self-quitting smoking in Scotland research discussion

Time: 10am to 11am

Join Zoom Meeting: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82082819335pwd=QXk1OVdKK1c4WVh4TitOTTJ4Q1hYdz09

Meeting ID: 820 8281 9335

Passcode: 690846

  • Exploring the strategies for self-quitting smoking in Scotland research presentation

Time: 1pm to 2pm

Join Zoom Meeting: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89478376514pwd=dG1oY0lpK0VYU3Naa0hUMVNSK3laZz09

Meeting ID: 894 7837 6514

Passcode: 664067

Please let ASH Scotland know if you plan to attend by responding to the CEO@ashscotland.org.uk no later than 29th February. Under ASH Scotland’s policy, those participating will be asked to confirm they have no conflicts of interest.

DEFRA publish annual Emissions of air pollutants report

DEFRA has published the annual Emissions of air pollutants in the UK figures and, while the trend for most major sources of air pollution is downwards, domestic wood burning is once again under the spotlight.

The emissions covered in these figures are particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), nitrogen oxides, ammonia, non-methane volatile organic compounds and sulphur dioxide.

Between 2005 and 2022 the UK met its emission reduction commitment to all the above pollutants. Shown below is the target for 2022, the reduction that was actually achieved and what that reduction needs have grown to by 2030

Ammonia: 2022 target: 8% • Achieved: 12% • 2030 target: 16%

NMVOCs: 2022 target 32% • Achieved: 44% • 2030 target: 39%

Nitrogen oxides: 2022 target 55% • Achieved: 63% reduction • 2030 target: 73%

PM2.5: 2022 target 30% • Achieved: 42% • 2030 target: 46%

Sulphur dioxide: 2022 target 59% • Achieved: 85% • 2030 target: 88%

The UK does not have emission reduction commitments for PM10. 

Nitrogen oxides (mostly from road transport and energy) and Sulphur dioxide (mostly from energy and industrial combustion) emissions have been reduced most dramatically since 2005 but the rate of reduction is slowing down notably.

Emissions from agriculture contributed 87% of total ammonia emissions in 2022  a slight increase since 2010, partly because of variations in weather conditions affecting crop planting and fertiliser use.

By 2012 NMVOC emissions (domestic solvents being the worst single source) had already been drastically reduced from their 1970 levels. Tougher regulations has seen the contribution from transport  fall from 33% in 1990 to just 4% in 2022, while emissions from Scotch whisky production have increased by 98% since 1990.

PM2.5 emissions have been falling  since 1970, thanks to the reduction in the use of coal and improved emission standards for transport but, over recent years, the rate of change has reduced. Compared to earlier decades, emission levels have been relatively steady, with small annual fluctuations.

The report observes that decreases in emissions from other sources have been largely offset by increases in emissions from domestic wood burning.

It states: ‘Domestic combustion covers households burning a variety of fuels including wood, coal, solid smokeless fuels, and fuels derived from waste such as coffee logs. This was a major source of PM emissions in 2022, as it contributed 29% of total PM2.5 emissions and 15% of total PM10 emissions.

‘Most emissions from this source come from households burning wood in stoves and open fires. The use of wood as a fuel contributed 75% of both total PM2.5 and PM10 emissions from domestic combustion in 2022.

‘Domestic combustion of wood contributed 22% of overall PM2.5 emissions and 11% of overall PM10 emissions in 2022.

‘Emissions of PM2.5 and PM10 from domestic wood burning increased by 56% between 2012 and 2022.

‘In the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, coal combustion was the primary source of PM emissions from households; yet the use of coal as a fuel has fallen over time (in 2022 the combustion of coal contributed 12% of PM2.5 emissions from domestic combustion).’

The full reports can be accessed here

Obesity Action Scotland publish new report on childhood obesity

A new report “Growing Up in Scotland: obesity from early childhood to adolescence” has been published by Obesity Action Scotland and University of Glasgow researchers. The report makes the shocking finding that children who experienced food insecurity at a young age were 4 times more likely to experience persistent obesity from the start of Primary school up to age 14 than children who did not experience food insecurity.

After analysing data collected using the Growing Up in Scotland (GUS) cohort of children, which has followed a group of children in Scotland since they were 10 months old, the report also found that: 

  • Half of GUS children were a healthy weight when measured at three time points during childhood (4, 11 and 14 years). Based on the experiences of GUS children, it is likely that at least half of Scottish children today will experience overweight or obesity by the age of 14 years.   
  • The prevalence of overweight and obesity increased from 25% at age 4 to 37% at age 14. This was mainly driven by increases in obesity, which rose from 10% to 22%.   
  • Poverty and other aspects of social disadvantage, including area deprivation, circumstances of the parent(s), food insecurity and a range of other, often co-existing factors, amplify the risk of experiencing overweight and obesity. 

summary report Understanding childhood weight in Scotland: What can longitudinal data tell us? and the full study Growing Up in Scotland: obesity from early childhood to adolescence.

The report author Dr Anna Pearce, Research Fellow said: 

“Tackling child poverty and disadvantage in the early years is essential if we are to avoid further rises in childhood obesity and prevent widening health inequalities in future generations of adults. Food insecurity, which is far higher now than it was when the GUS children were growing up, is one area for urgent action.”

Lorraine Tulloch, Programme Lead of Obesity Action Scotland said: 

“Children trust us to do the best for them. As a nation we need to ensure they have easy and reliable access to food that can promote their health. We need to put healthy food centre stage and within everyone’s reach. 

This report highlights that the consequences of food insecurity go way beyond the short-term impact that we are all already acutely aware of. 

I hope that this report will add to the valuable evidence we have on childhood health and will provide an urgent incentive for action.  We can turn this around with brave and bold policy to tackle social disadvantage and improve food environments.”  

XL Bully dog safeguards coming into force on Friday 23 February

XL Bully dog owners are being urged to prepare for new rules which are expected to come into force on Friday 23 February – subject to approval by the Scottish Parliament. 

New laws laid for consideration in Scottish Parliament will make it an offence to: 

  • have an XL Bully in public without a lead and muzzle 
  • breed or breed from an XL Bully dog 
  • sell an XL Bully dog 
  • abandon an XL Bully dog or let it stray 
  • give away an XL Bully dog 

The penalties available to a court upon conviction for breach of the new safeguards are up to six months imprisonment and/or a fine up to £5,000.

The definition used for an XL Bully dog is the same as the UK Government who have produced a XL Bully conformation standard to check if a dog is an XL Bully.

This is the first stage of safeguards being introduced. The second stage will mean from 1 August 2024 it will be an offence to own an XL Bully without an exemption certificate or having applied for an exemption certificate. Full details on the exemption applications process and the support available will be announced in the coming weeks. 

New safeguards about XL Bully dogs were announced by the Community Safety Minister on the 18 January 2024. This is a consequence of reports of dogs being moved to Scotland after controls were introduced in England and Wales. 

Local authorities have existing powers under the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 to serve Dog Control Notices that set out what dog owners must do to bring their dogs under control to combat ‘out of control’ dogs at an early stage.

£50K of funding launched to help make Scottish food healthier

Food and Drink Federation (FDF) Scotland has announced £50,000 of funding to help Scottish producers to make their food healthier.

The fund is open to small and medium sized food and drink businesses across Scotland – with up to £5,000 available for each successful business.

Food and drink businesses may wish to offer a wider range of healthier products however the associated costs can be challenging. This is why FDF Scotland developed the Reformul8 Challenge Fund. This fourth round of support was made possible due to funding received from Scotland Food & Drink.

The fund will be used for a wide range of activities. This includes accessing nutritional testing and technical support, working with ingredient suppliers to source and trial new innovative solutions that can improve the health of products and improving production capacity.

The winners will be announced at a free showcase event – Celebrating Reformulation and Innovation for Health – hosted by FDF Scotland and Interface at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh on 26 February 2024. 

To date 46 businesses have been supported in their reformulation journey through three previous rounds of funding. Those winners include some of Scotland’s most-loved brands – Bells Food Group, Simon Howie, We Hae Meat, Border Biscuits, Dean’s of Huntly, Arran Dairies, Strathmore Foods, JG Ross and Cobbs Bakery.

This has led to many great success stories. Bells Food Group reduced the salt in their pie shells by 50% – taking almost nine tonnes of salt out of the Scottish diet – the equivalent to nine family sized cars. While Tower Bakery almost doubled the fibre content in some of their bread roll ranges to meet the Food and Drink in Schools (Scotland) Regulations.

Food and drink businesses have until 16 February 2024 to apply for the fund: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Reformul8.

Joanne Burns, Reformulation for Health Manager, FDF Scotland, said:

“I am delighted to be able to support more Scottish food and drink manufacturers with the fourth round of the Reformul8 Challenge Fund. 

“Creating a wider range of healthier products can help food businesses to meet growing consumer demand for healthier options and to achieve public health targets.

“The fund is a great way to help businesses kick start their reformulation journey. Along with bespoke help and guidance from the Reformulation for Health team we can help you get those products to shelf – improving the health of Scotland’s people one product at a time!”

If food and drink businesses are interested in finding out more about how FDF Scotland can support you with recipe reformulation please email reformulation@fdfscotland.org.uk

Ultra-processed foods score worse on food package labelling

Ultra-processed foods (UPFs) contain more calories, fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt than minimally-processed foods – but not all UPFs are unhealthy, according to new research from University College London (UCL).

For the study, published in The British Journal of Nutrition, scientists wanted to investigate whether food processing information could be a useful indicator of what is healthy to eat.

The research team compared data on the level of processing in commonly eaten foods to the advice found on food packaging labels – the first time such an assessment has been carried out.

UPFs have been under investigation since the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) report on processed foods and health was published in 2023. After reviewing the available scientific evidence, the SACN report concluded that increased consumption of processed foods, in particular UPFs, was associated with an increased risk of health issues such as obesity, chronic diseases like type-2 diabetes, and depression. But the report also cautioned that further research was needed to establish the cause of these associations.

The degree of processing in foods is most often assessed using the NOVA scale, which divides foods into four groups: unprocessed or minimally processed foods, processed culinary ingredients, processed foods, and ultra-processed foods.

But processing information is not currently included in the front of pack labelling system used in countries like the UK, which uses a ‘traffic light’ system to show the level of energy, fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt contained in foods. In this system, red means high, amber means medium and green means low.

In this study, researchers at UCL looked at data on what people are eating in the UK to assess how well the NOVA scale aligns with the advice on front of pack labelling.

They found that UPFs had worse (unhealthier) pack labelling scores, with greater levels of energy, fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt than minimally-processed foods. Processed foods, one step below UPFs on the NOVA scale, also scored badly on front of pack labelling, but were not as high in energy or sugar as UPFs.

The results also indicated that not all UPFs are unhealthy according to package labelling. A meat-free mince product, for example, might be green for fat, saturated fat and sugar, and amber for salt. But it would also be considered ultra-processed if it had more than five ingredients, many of which are additives.

Samuel Dicken, first author of the study from UCL Division of Medicine, said: “There is a clear overlap between the healthiness of food, front of pack labelling and the level of food processing. This has implications for understanding what we eat and drink in the UK. What is clear from the types of food and drinks captured by red ‘traffic lights’ on front of pack labels and wide availability of UPF, is the need to change the food environment to support individuals to consume a healthy, balanced diet. Updating package labelling with processing information at the moment wouldn’t necessarily help individuals make an informed, healthy choice.”

A trial is currently underway at UCL to assess whether it is possible to eat healthily on a UPF-only diet compared to a minimally-processed food diet, and whether providing guidance on healthy eating can change what people choose to eat. The results are expected in early 2025.

Dr Adrian Brown, the lead author of the study and a specialist dietitian from UCL Division of Medicine, said: “Having worked with patients for nearly two decades, one of the biggest challenges for people is to identify what’s healthy and what’s not in a supermarket environment. On the face of it, a low-fat yoghurt may look healthy for, example, but it may also be high in sugar. Adding that it’s also ultra-processed will only make these decisions harder.

“At the moment, things aren’t so clear cut as to say all UPFs are bad and there is a risk of confusing people about what is healthy to eat.”

East Renfrewshire Council promoting careers in Environmental Health

Isobel McCormick and Paul Birkin from the Environmental Health team at East Renfrewshire Council have been encouraging young people to take up a career in environmental health by attending a career’s fair in Barrhead High School with attendance planned at similar upcoming event in St Ninian’s High School in Giffnock.

This builds on recent success of providing practical training for two student Environmental Health Officers and seeks to address the challenges presented by national shortages in the profession by growing the next generation of officers.

The Environmental Health team have been working with the University of West of Scotland and The Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland on ways to identify future Environmental Health Officers.

Proposal to raise Minimum Unit Pricing

Plans to continue setting a minimum price per unit of alcohol and to increase it by 15p will go before the Scottish Parliament for approval.

As part of a ‘sunset clause’ when Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) legislation was introduced in 2018, it will end on 30 April this year unless Parliament votes to keep it.

A price increase is required to counteract the effects of inflation and 65p has been selected as the Scottish Government seeks to increase the positive effects of the policy.

If Parliament agrees, it will take effect on 30 September 2024.

Deputy First Minister Shona Robison said:

“Research commended by internationally-renowned public health experts estimated that our world-leading Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) policy has saved hundreds of lives, likely averted hundreds of alcohol-attributable hospital admissions and contributed to reducing health inequalities.

“Despite this progress, deaths caused specifically by alcohol rose last year – and my sympathy goes out to all those who have lost a loved one.

“We believe the proposals, which are supported by Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer, strike a reasonable balance between public health benefits and any effects on the alcoholic drinks market and impact on consumers. Evidence suggests there has not been a significant impact on business and industry as a whole.

“Alongside MUP, we will continue to invest in treatment and a wide range of other measures, including funding for Alcohol and Drug Partnerships which rose to £112 million in 2023-24.”

Public attitudes research published in September 2023 found that overall more people were likely to be in favour of MUP (43%) than against it (38%) – in line with previous Scottish Social Attitudes Survey findings on MUP at intervals between 2013-2019.

Research conducted by Public Health Scotland and the University of Glasgow estimated that MUP had reduced alcohol-attributable deaths by 13.4% – 156 a year –  and was likely to have reduced hospital admissions wholly attributable to alcohol by 4.1% up to the end of 2020 compared to what would have happened if MUP had not been in place.

As part of a review of the level of minimum unit price, the Scottish Government commissioned the University of Sheffield Alcohol Research Group, who are experts in this field, to undertake new modelling. Putting their analysis in the context of current prices, this estimated that continuing and raising MUP to 65p could avert an additional 60 alcohol specific deaths and 774 fewer hospital admissions in the first year, compared to the price remaining constant in real terms – not to mention the significant public health benefits expected where alcohol is a contributor to causes of death and ill health.   

Scottish Government consult on the National Good Food Nation Plan

The Scottish Government are seeking views on the national Good Food Nation Plan. This Plan is the first of many steps to progress food system transformation in Scotland. This consultation covers the content of the first national Good Food Nation Plan and asks your views on the national Good Food Nation Outcomes; ways of measuring progress; and how different groups envision life in a Good Food Nation.

This first national Good Food Nation Plan represents how the Scottish Government intends to use the powers and levers we do have to work collectively with people, communities, businesses, agencies and organisations to meet our Good Food Nation ambitions.

The national Good Food Nation Plan sets out the following:

  • Part One outlines the history of the Good Food Nation in Scotland and highlights how the plan will take effect. 
  • Part Two proposes a set of six national Good Food Nation Outcomes, and sets out how they were developed and how progress will be measured. We will ask you questions about the Outcomes as well as the measures.
  • Part Three highlights how working mechanisms within government will change, and presents some of the key food related policies that are currently under way. It also presents what life would be like for different groups of people under a Good Food Nation. We are particularly interested in understanding if we have captured correctly what life should be like in a Good Food Nation.

As part of this consultation they are also seeking views on specified functions, which will be defined in secondary legislation. Specified functions are very important as it is when Scottish Ministers are exercising these functions that the plan will take effect. Questions on specified functions will be asked after the section on the national Good Food Nation Plan. You can choose to respond to some or all of these questions.

Read the consultation paper The consultation paper contains full background information for this consultation.

Consultation Engagement Events

During the consultation the Scottish Government are running a series of public events online and in-person across Scotland to allow individuals and communities to share their views and inform the national Good Food Nation Plan. The events are free of charge. Please book your place in advance by using the registration links below.

In-person events:

  • Edinburgh 10.00am to 12.30pm on 23 February
  • Alloa 2.00pm to 4.30pm on 27 February
  • Glasgow 10.00am to 12.30pm on 1 March
  • Dundee 10.00am to 12.30pm on 6 March
  • Dumfries 2.00pm to 4.30pm on 8 March
  • Galashiels 10.00am to 12.30pm on 12 March
  • Oban 10.00am to 12.30pm on 15 March
  • Peterhead 2.00pm to 4.30pm on 18 March
  • Orkney 10.00am to 12.30pm on 21 March
  • South Uist 10.00am to 12.30pm on 26 March

Online events:

Tobacco age of sale to be raised and single-use vapes banned

The Scottish Government have announced plans to ban single use vapes and raise the tobacco age of sale so that no one born on or after 1 January 2009 can ever legally be sold tobacco in Scotland. The Institute is pleased to see the Scottish Government’s announcement and welcomes this positive move.

Scottish Ministers have agreed to take forward the recommendations following a consultation on ‘Creating a Smokefree Generation and Tackling Youth Vaping’ which ran across Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland last year.

The report also recommends that powers are taken to restrict vape flavours, how vapes are displayed in stores, their packaging and product presentation, along with powers to regulate other nicotine products. In addition, it suggests measures which are already underway or in place in Scotland, including restrictions on non-nicotine vapes and powers for local authorities to issue Fixed Penalty Notices for breaches of age of sale legislation for tobacco products and vapes.

The Scottish Government has been clear that vapes should never be used by children or adult non-smokers, but they are one of a range of tools for adult smokers to quit smoking. It is therefore intended that refillable, reusable vapes will remain available, alongside other tools for smoking cessation, including nicotine patches and medication.

Legislating to ban single-use vapes fulfils a Programme for Government commitment to reduce vaping and take action to tackle their environmental impact of single-use vapes.

The majority of the measures will initially be taken forward via UK-wide legislation requiring an Legislative Consent Motion (LCM), apart from the disposables ban, which will be through legislation in the Scottish Parliament.

The ban on single-use vapes will be taken forward using powers under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which are devolved to Scottish Ministers. The powers in section 140 of the Act were transferred to Scottish Ministers under section 53 of the Scotland Act 1998 and can no longer be exercised by UK Ministers in relation to Scotland. We must therefore legislate separately in Scotland in order to enact a ban. This approach has been used in the past to ban other items such as microbeads, cotton buds and single use plastics.

Public Health Minister Jenni Minto said:

“Smoking damages lives and kills more than 8,000 people a year in Scotland and is burden on our NHS and social care services. Research also suggests that almost one in five adolescents have tried vapes.

“We want to do more to achieve our goal of being tobacco-free in Scotland by 2034 and after collaborating on the UK-wide consultation, we have worked closely across the four UK nations on next steps and now intend to act on taking forward its recommendations, either on a UK-wide basis or through legislation in the Scottish Parliament.

“I have worked closely with Circular Economy Minister Lorna Slater on disposable vapes. These are a threat to both public health and the environment – from litter on our streets, to the risk of fires in waste facilities – that’s why we will act on our Programme for Government commitment and move to ban them.”