Many Food Business Operators are neglecting maintenance, hygiene and training because enforcement officers are unable to make the necessary visits. Yet the law states that it is their responsibility to provide safe food.
EHPs are continuing to report a significant reduction in food hygiene standards. Carol Archibald, team leader for food, health and safety at Tendring Council in Essex said that it has become apparent that many food businesses have “slid quickly into poor routines” that have resulted in an increase in food hygiene improvement notices being served, leading to lower Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS) ratings.
Archibald reported that her team has found several challenges. “Food business operators [FBOs] are not taking responsibility for maintenance, hygiene or paperwork. It’s because an enforcement officer hasn't been out to draw their attention to what needs to be done next by way of a ‘to do list’,” she said.
“FBOs are also using the pandemic as a reason for a drop in standards because no-one is checking up on them. It’s also partly financial as some have no money to buy chemicals or to make simple repairs to structures.”
She also reported that many businesses have not updated training on any level, with some reopening without any pre-planning about cleaning.
Gillian Dicken, principal EHO at Monmouthshire County Council, faces a similar situation. “Over the course of 2018/19, we carried out 503 full inspections of which 33 required follow-up visits. It was similar in 2019/20, when we had 559 with 37 follow-ups. Now, my team are telling me that four out of five premises they've been to need follow-up enforcement visits. That's a significant increase.”
“Catching up with the backlog will take us much longer and be more expensive due to officer time required to get back on a more even level.”
“Catching up with the backlog will take us much longer and be more expensive due to officer time required to get back on a more even level,” said Archibald. “Staff are weary from Covid work, and the introduction of Natasha’s Law has meant a lot of time spent with businesses explaining this to gain compliance, and to now be facing an uphill struggle again is another burden on us all. Repeat visits are needed in many cases.”
CIEH Director, Kate Thompson said that it’s too early to know whether these findings are representative of the whole food sector or a consequence of new businesses (and those that have been the subject of complaints) being targeted for inspection following a lull during the pandemic.
However, she added that consumers can be confident that “where hygiene standards are not being maintained, environmental health professionals will work with businesses and, where necessary, take more formal action to secure improvements”.
Michael Jackson, the FSA’s Head of Regulatory Compliance and Deputy Director, said: “Food businesses should not rely on local authority inspections to drive them to do the right thing. The law is clear that it is their responsibility to provide safe food and they should follow all the appropriate protocols and processes to operate, which includes re-opening safely. We have provided advice on how to do this since the start of the pandemic and published the guidance on food.gov.uk.”