More than 50,000 food hygiene checks were outstanding in 2017-18, according to the Unchecked UK campaign, which highlights the importance of regulatory bodies.
Unchecked UK discovered this information by filing a Freedom of Information request to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to find out the number of food hygiene inspections per local authority that were missed in 2017-18. Just 11% of councils had carried out all of their planned food checks on time and eight local authorities missed more than 1,000 local food business inspections, according to the research.
Where inspections had been carried out, there was 90% compliance on food safety across all premises. However, of the highest-risk food premises in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, 80% of the 1,745 A-rated premises and 36% of the 20,759 B-rated premises failed to meet basic food hygiene standards, scoring 1 or 2 on the food hygiene rating scheme (FHRS).
A- and B- rated food businesses are those with a poor track record on hygiene; larger-scale premises that handle raw meat or fish; premises where food contamination is more likely to happen; and businesses serving children or elderly people.
Unchecked UK project lead Emma Rose said: “Most food businesses are meeting basic hygiene standards, but the number of overdue food checks raises questions about whether the UK’s food safety regime is ready for the challenges ahead.”
Rose pointed out that the relatively poor performance of English high-risk food businesses (see figures below) may be partly down to a reduction in local authority staff and budgets.
She also said that the lack of a compulsory FHRS rating display in England may be to blame. “Clearly, this means there is less incentive for poorly performing businesses in England to up their game."
The FSA took issue with the findings, pointing out that ‘overdue hygiene interventions’ are those which were outstanding by the end of the relevant financial year.
“We don’t recognise this as a picture of food regulation,” said a spokesperson. “Over 95% of businesses which have been inspected in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are broadly compliant or better.
“Local authorities inspect high risk businesses more frequently and take further action where necessary to protect public health. Over 99% of these businesses (categories A and B) were inspected on time in 2018-19.”
Percentage of highest-risk food businesses failing on food hygiene
% of A-rated businesses failing
England: 81% (out of 1,605)
Wales: 76% (out of 118)
Northern Ireland: 41% (out of 22)
% of B-rated businesses failing
England: 37% (out of 18,889)
Wales: 31% (out of 1,444)
Northern Ireland: 20% (out of 426)