Local authorities slipping on food hygiene, claims Which?

By Carina Perkins

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food hygiene, Food standards agency

Which? claims some local authorities are struggling to enforce food hygiene standards
Which? claims some local authorities are struggling to enforce food hygiene standards
Budget cuts have left some local authorities struggling to enforce food hygiene standards in restaurants and takeaways, according to a new report from Which?

The study, published yesterday, analysed data supplied to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) by 395 local authorities in 2012/13. It found that in some areas, more than one-in-three of high and medium risk food businesses - restaurants, takeaways and shops - are failing to comply with food hygiene requirements.

Nationally, the study found that food testing by local authorities fell by 6.8 per cent from the previous year and food standards interventions fell by 16.8 per cent.

Which? also ranked councils on their food hygiene enforcement performance, based on compliance levels amongst high or medium risk businesses, the percentage of premises yet to receive a risk rating and the number of food-hygiene inspections and follow ups that were required but not carried out.

London authorities scored particularly badly, accounting for six of the 10 lowest ranking councils in the rating. Which? claimed the lowest scoring council, The London Borough of Bexley, undertook no official hygiene sampling in 2012/2013.

Worrying decline

Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said it was ‘worrying’ that 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.

John Barnes, FSA head of Local Delivery, admitted that local authorities were facing 'challenges', but stressed that consumer protection remained a 'key priority'.

“Local authorities need to decide their priorities but we do expect appropriate resource is put into food safety and authenticity,” he said, adding the FSA had been working with the local authorities singled out by the Which? report to help them make improvements.

Some of the lowest ranking local authorities – including Bexley – released statements denying food hygiene failures and claiming the Which? report used inaccurate data.

“The figures in this release are inaccurate and do not compare like-for-like. The compliance figures that have been used by 'Which?' are out-of-date,” said a statement from Bexley. “Some of the premises listed in other boroughs were last inspected 10 or 15 years ago whereas Bexley's data dates back to 2010.”

The council added that it had taken samples from 47 premises in 2012/13.

Food hygiene ratings

The Which? report comes just weeks after a BBC programme suggested that forcing restaurants and takeaways across the UK to display their food hygiene ratings could help drive up standards. 

Jenny Morris from the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health told the BBC that moving from voluntary to mandatory display, as has been adopted in Wales, would provide more incentive for businesses to improve their ratings. 

However, the British Hospitality Association (BHA) argued there were still inconsistencies in food hygiene ratings, and that consumers didn’t understand the six-point system. The organisation’s deputy chief executive Martin Couchman said it would not be fair to force businesses to display their ratings until the flaws have been ironed out.

Industry opinions - what is yours? 

According to our poll on the issue, industry opinions are split, with 51 per cent of respondents saying all restaurants and takeaways should have to display food hygiene ratings, and 49 per cent saying they should not.

What do you think? Would mandatory rating display help drive up food hygiene standards? Or do you agree the current system is too inconsistent and open to interpretation? Cast your VOTE below and post a comment to let us know your thoughts.

Survey

Should restaurant hygiene ratings be mandatory?

  • YES - It would help to drive up food hygiene standards

    64%
  • NO - There are too many problems with the current scheme

    36%

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