Advisory Council on Food and Environmental Hygiene

 

Provisional Food Business Licences

 

 

PURPOSE

 

                   This paper sets out the proposed measures to improve regulatory control over food premises issued with provisional food business licences. 

 

 

BACKGROUND

 

2.                Any person who wishes to operate a food business is required by law to obtain a licence from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) and to comply with licensing requirements and conditions imposed by FEHD.  To facilitate early start-up of business, FEHD allows a food business licence applicant to operate on a ��provisional�� basis provided that the applicant complies with some basic requirements on health, ventilation, building safety and fire safety.  These requirements are less stringent than those for a full licence.  For example -

 

(a)      provisional restaurant licensees are only required to provide a single set of toilet facilities as the minimum.  For premises intended to accommodate more than 25 customers, only half of the standard toilet provisions required for the issue of full restaurant licence are needed;

 

(b)     provisional restaurant licensees are only required to provide a minimum of one wash-up sink and wash-hand basin in each kitchen, food preparation room and scullery; and


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(c)      applicants of full restaurant licence are normally required to comply with additional hygiene requirements having regard to the physical provisions of the premises and the types of food to be sold.  No such requirements are imposed on provisional licence applicants.

 

3.                As long as a recognized professional (for example, an authorized person or a structural engineer registered under the Buildings Ordinance (Cap. 123)) certifies compliance of these essential requirements, a provisional licence will be issued pending the completion of all work to meet the full set of licensing requirements.  A provisional licence is valid for six months and may be renewed for another six months in exceptional circumstances. 

 

Problems with the Existing Regime

 

Non-compliance with Provisional Licensing Requirements

 

4.                The provisional licence system is intended to be a business-facilitation measure.  Unfortunately, some licensees have abused the system by -

 

(a)      securing the professional certification necessary to meet the basic licensing requirements without any intention to comply with the full set of requirements for the eventual issue of a full licence; or

 

(b)     making unauthorized alteration to the premises after professional certification is obtained.  This problem is commonly found with takeaway food businesses operating under a food factory licence, where the licensees often dismantle glazed panel installed at shop front and expose their food to open air.  Another example is the reconfiguration of food room to a size below statutory minimum by restaurant operators in order to increase the seating area.   


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5.                At present, FEHD issues warnings to provisional food business licensees for breaches of licensing requirements.  For serious breaches (such as unauthorized reduction in food room size), FEHD may suspend the licence until rectification work is done.  However, these measures have not been effective in dealing with the problem stated in paragraph 4 above. 

 

Breaches of Food Hygiene Law

 

6.                In addition to imposing licensing requirements and conditions, FEHD operates a Demerit Points System (DPS) to sanction food business licensees (for both full licences and provisional licences) who repeatedly contravene food hygiene law.  Details of the DPS are set out at Annex.

 

7.                At present, demerit points registered against a provisional licence are not carried forward to the full licence granted subsequently.  The issue of a full licence will in effect absolve the licensee from the responsibility for hygiene offences committed during the provisional licence period.  This has undermined the effectiveness of the DPS in checking breaches of food hygiene law. 

 

 

PROPOSAL

 

Breach of Licensing Requirements

 

8.                To prevent further abuse of the provisional licence system by unscrupulous applicants, we propose that a provisional licence be cancelled should there be non-compliance with any of the provisional licensing requirements.  This is justified on the grounds that the basic requirements for the issue of a provisional licence are the bare essentials for the protection of health.

 

9.                It should be noted that the application for a full licence in respect of a food premises will not be affected by cancellation of the provisional licence for that premises.  Provided that the applicant eventually complies with all the relevant licensing requirements, a full licence will be issued. 

 

Demerit Points System

 

10.               To enhance the effectiveness of the DPS in deterring violations of hygiene and food safety regulations, we propose that demerit points and consequential penalties in the form of suspension or cancellation of licence incurred during the provisional licence period be borne by the food premises concerned after a full licence has been issued. 

 

 

WAY FORWARD

 

11.               Subject to Members�� comments on the proposed measures set out in paragraphs 8 to 10 above, we will consult food business licensees on the proposal and report the outcome of our consultation to the Legislative Council Panel on Food Safety and Environmental Hygiene in December 2003/January 2004.  We aim to implement the new arrangements in the first quarter of 2004.

 

 

 

Food and Environmental Hygiene Department

October 2003


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Annex

 

Demerit Points System for Licensed Food Premises

 

 

The Demerit Points System (DPS) is a penalty system aimed at sanctioning food businesses for repeated violations of hygiene and food safety legislation.  Under the System -

 

l         The prescribed demerit points for a particular offence will be doubled if the same offence is committed for the second time within a period of 12 months.

 

l         A licence will be suspended for 7 days if 15 demerit points are accumulated within a period of 12 months (first suspension).

 

l         The licence will be suspended for 14 days if another 15 demerit points are accumulated within a period of 12 months from the first suspension (second suspension).

 

l         The licence will be cancelled if another 15 demerit points are accumulated within a period of 12 months from the second suspension.

 

 

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