The Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Food Standards Scotland (FSS) have launched Our Food: An annual review of food standards across the UK, an in-depth review of our food standards.
The first in a series of reports due to be published annually, it comes after the food system has faced the UK’s departure from the EU, the significant effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, and more recently the disruption caused by the war in Ukraine.
Despite these pressures, the report concludes with a degree of caution that food standards in the UK have largely been maintained.
Yet while there has been no evidence of a drop in standards, the report warns of challenges ahead.
Two of the main concerns identified are the fall in the number of inspections of food businesses, as a consequence of the resourcing pressures faced by local authorities. Secondly, the delay in establishing full UK imports controls for high-risk food and feed from the EU has reduced the ability to prevent the entry of unsafe food into the UK market.
FSA Chair, Professor Susan Jebb, said it was encouraging for UK consumers that the report provides reassurance that the high food standards in the UK have been upheld during a 'really tough period' for the food system.
He added: “We are under no illusions that there are major challenges ahead. Establishing full UK import controls on food from the EU by the end of next year is a priority. The longer the UK operates without assurance that products from the EU meet our high food and feed safety standards, the less confident we can be that we can effectively identify potential safety incidents.
“As the report also points out, local authority inspections declined during the reporting period. Even though there are signs of improvement, particularly on hygiene inspections, local authorities continue to face resourcing constraints which could affect progress.
“We, along with our partners in government, must all make sure that the current challenges in the food system are resolved in a way that puts us on course for a safe, healthier and more sustainable future food system.”
UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls welcomed the findings.
She said: “It was during the difficult past two years that the hospitality sector implemented two major pieces of food labelling legislation: Natasha’s Law allergen labelling and, in England, menu calorie labelling.
“We’re delighted, therefore, that this new report reveals allergen-related incidents have fallen by nearly a quarter compared to 2019. This of course reflects the fact that many hospitality businesses were closed for part of this period, but also illustrates that the sector is stepping up in this area, and recognises the continued and ongoing importance of communicating allergen information.
“We’re also pleased to see that 97% of food businesses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and 94% in Scotland, received a satisfactory or higher rating under the Food Hygiene Rating schemes, and in England, Wales and Northern Ireland three quarters of food business received the highest rating.”