Council food checks decline, Which? survey finds

13 Jan 14
Some councils are struggling to undertake the required inspections of food businesses, which could lead to an increased risk to public health, a survey of town halls has found.

By Richard Johnstone | 14 January 2014

Some councils are struggling to undertake the required inspections of food businesses, which could lead to an increased risk to public health, a survey of town halls has found.

According to consumer organisation Which?, in some parts of the country more than one in three high- and medium-risk food businesses aren’t complying with food hygiene requirements. Council checks on food standards, such as the accuracy of food labels, has also been patchy, today’s Food safety report stated.

The survey found that Bexley in London was the poorest performing local authority, based on an aggregate of three measures. These were: the proportion of premises ranked as high or medium risk in a local authority; the percentage of premises yet to receive a risk rating; and the amount of inspections and other follow-ups required but not carried out by inspectors.

Five other London boroughs were also included in the bottom ten authorities, based on a weighting of all three scores – Ealing, Enfield, Harrow, Richmond upon Thames and Southwark.

Also among the top ten worst performers was Wycombe, where one-third of food establishments (33.6%) have not received a risk rating, the highest proportion. West Dunbartonshire had the highest percentage of premises non-compliant food premises at 54.4%. One the third measure, Medway and Harrow emerged as the poorest performers with more than half the necessary follow-up interventions not yet completed.

Across the country, total food testing fell by 6.8% from the previous year, and testing for labelling and presentation fell by 16.2%. No official hygiene sampling was carried out at all by Bexley, Christchurch, Isles of Scilly, Medway, Tamworth, West Lindsey and West Yorkshire in 2012/13, the report found.

The number of food standards interventions has also dropped by 16.8%, leaving the potential for further food fraud to slip through the net following last year’s revelations that some meat products contained horsemeat.

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said it was very worrying that the extent of local authority food checks were in decline.

‘We want to see a more strategic approach to food law enforcement that makes the best use of limited resources and responds effectively to the huge challenges facing the food supply chain,’ he said.

The organisation called on the government, the Food Standards Agency and councils to introduce a more joined-up and coherent approach to food safety, which can anticipate threats and problem areas.

There should also be a more strategic use of resources and expertise, as well as tougher sanctions for non-compliance.

Responding to the report, the Local Government Association’s regulation spokesman Nick Worth said: ‘Councils are working hard to maintain and improve food safety standards despite the pressure that significant government funding cuts are placing on everyday services.

‘Random sampling is just one tool available to councils and a reduction in testing does not mean an increased safety risk to the public. Targeting high-risk businesses and acting on complaints is a far more effective use of their limited resources and also allows councils to free up responsible businesses from unnecessary inspections and red tape.

‘It is ultimately the responsibility of food manufacturers, retailers and suppliers to ensure the products they produce or sell comply fully with food law, are fit for consumption and won’t risk public safety.’


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