One hundred and twenty-five authorities – including all 11 in Northern Ireland – have now signed up to the Food Standards Agency’s online Register a Food Business (RAFB) service.
The service was developed to standardise how food business operators (FBOs) register a new business, or when they take over an existing one. This varies widely as local authorities have developed their own approaches.
Authorities are obliged to provide a digital registration service to FBOs but paper forms remain in use, especially during an inspection. The FSA says the new system has been designed to be quick and simple to use even when in the field. The local authority receives an immediate notification that a registration has been completed and the FBO gets a confirmation email with a copy of the information submitted, as well as advice on how to get their business ready for inspection.
The service has had a mixed response from the profession.
Shared Regulatory Services, a partnership between Bridgend, Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan councils, was an early adopter of RAFB. Alexa Pieris, team manager for food and port health in Cardiff, said: “Currently the online form does not contain all the information that we have on our paper form, for example, date of birth of the FBO, number of staff engaged in business and number of vehicles.” She added that some details have been added since RAFB’s first iteration, however. The FSA says it is continuing to develop the system using feedback from local authorities.
“The data does come across clean and there are no errors in missing mandatory data or admin staff not being able to read the writing and entering incorrect details. However, it does not stop FBOs entering the incorrect details in the first place, and then that data coming across into the system.”
Some authorities, however, are finding RAFB more efficient, suggesting that councils’ experience of the switch to RAFB may depend on the quality of the local system it is replacing.
Shona McQuade, assistant environmental health manager at the Sevenoaks and Dartford local authority partnership, said: “The new registration form has so much more information and more detail that is useful to us as a local authority. We tried using different electronic methods, but we still ended up with handwritten forms. This new approach is so much better, its quicker and clearer for businesses and gives us the information we need.”