‘Lives put at risk’ by fail­ures in food safety

Daily Mail - - Countdown To Brexit D-day - By Sean Poul­ter Con­sumer Af­fairs Ed­i­tor

LIVES are be­ing put at risk be­cause the na­tion’s sys­tem for polic­ing food stan­dards is ‘no longer fit for purpose’, says an of­fi­cial re­view.

The damn­ing re­port found that lo­cal coun­cils are car­ry­ing out fewer than half of the checks on food busi­nesses than are needed to keep the na­tion safe.

This means restau­rants, take­aways, pubs, cafes and re­tail­ers may not be prop­erly la­belling al­ler­gens, which can trig­ger fa­tal re­ac­tions as seen in sev­eral re­cent tragedies.

At the same time there is a risk of a re­peat of the horse­meat scan­dal fol­low­ing a col­lapse in food sam­ple test­ing de­signed to ensure prod­ucts on shelves and in restau­rants are what they say they are.

A re­view by the Food Stan­dards Agency found the prob­lems stem from cuts in trading stan­dards de­part­ments, with bud­gets fall­ing 40 per cent and staff num­bers, in­spec­tions and test­ing all re­duced.

As a re­sult, coun­cils are un­able to ef­fec­tively en­force the rules gov­ern­ing the qual­ity, com­po­si­tion, la­belling, pre­sen­ta­tion, chem­i­cal con­tam­i­na­tion and ad­ver­tis­ing of food.

Based on the find­ings, an of­fi­cial FSA pa­per con­cludes: ‘There has been a de­cline in the ef­fec­tive­ness of these of­fi­cial con­trols for some years, and it is now un­der in­creas­ing pres­sure and no longer fit for purpose.’

The FSA re­view found less than half of re­quired food stan­dards in­ter­ven­tions, which cov­ers in­spec­tions, au­dits, sur­veil­lance and sam­pling, were car­ried out by coun­cils in 2017-18.

The num­ber of trading stan­dards of­fi­cers deal­ing with food has fallen by 24 per cent over the past five years, leav­ing the equiv­a­lent of just 338 to cover the whole of Eng­land, Wales and North­ern Ire­land.

Alarm­ingly, many take­aways, which are con­sid­ered a par­tic­u­lar risk around fail­ures to la­bel al­ler­gens, are be­ing vis­ited just once ev­ery five years.

In some ar­eas, re­spon­si­bil­ity for food stan­dards has been passed to en­vi­ron­men­tal health of­fi­cers, who have not been given proper train­ing.

As a re­sult of the re­view, the FSA is plan­ning a re­design of food stan­dards mon­i­tor­ing that will fo­cus on is­sues and busi­nesses that are seen as a par­tic­u­lar risk. At the same time, au­dits of food busi­nesses will in­creas­ingly be con­tracted out to pri­vate firms.

FSA chair­man Heather Han­cock said: ‘Our re­sults show that food stan­dards de­liv­ery is ham­pered by in­ad­e­quate re­sources, and an out of date and in­flex­i­ble ap­proach to reg­u­la­tion. It needs a fun­da­men­tal look at how we pro­vide bet­ter pro­tec­tion for con­sumers in the fu­ture.’

‘No longer fit for purpose’

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