‘Lives put at risk’ by failures in food safety
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Heather Hancock said: ‘Our results show that food standards delivery is hampered by inadequate resources, and an out of date and inflexible approach to regulation.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’