Media highlights: 24 August – 1 September 2015

By Steven Fifer, PR Manager for the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) 

Newspaper stack

Food was definitely on the environmental health menu over the past week and we kick off this blog with news that the CIEH and The Institute of Food Safety Integrity & Protection (TiFSiP) launched a white paper on precautionary ‘may contain’ food allergen statements following calls from the food industry for greater clarity and guidance. 

The Independent picked up on the white paper, which considers the use of precautionary ‘may contain’ allergen statements and suggests that current approaches should be changed to improve the accuracy and reliability of information provided to consumers with food allergies.

Last Friday saw the Food Standards Authority provide new guidance on serving rare burgers following concerns from the food watchdog that the trend for ‘gourmet’ burger chains to serve dishes rare or medium-rare is putting people at risk. Jenny Morris, Principal Policy Officer for the CIEH, has advised that the issue is complex and only a few businesses will be able to serve ‘rare burgers’ as they will require sophisticated and validated food safety management systems along the supply chain.

In other food related news, health inspectors ordered a food shop in Wandsworth to close its doors immediately after finding the premises was infested with mice and insects, posing an immediate risk to public health. Restaurants with zero food hygiene ratings made another appearance in the news, this time in the Loughborough Echo, following an article which reported that six local eateries scored the lowest mark possible.

Over the past few weeks there have been a variety of articles connected with smoking, smoking bans and the use of e-cigarettes. So it was interesting to read that the Nottingham Post featured an article detailing how Gedling Borough Council will not give staff smoking breaks and workers are being told to cover their uniform when smoking. As reported in recent blogs, the CIEH has been working closely with Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) in helping organisations adopt e-cigarette policies to help their workers reduce tobacco consumption at the workplace and there have been examples of local authorities who have put these into practice.

If you weren’t aware, working hours falls under the environmental health spectrum in connection with health and safety. This is topical as last week there was an article by the Reuters newswire which focused on a report that found people working at least 55 hours a week are significantly more likely to eventually suffer a stroke than people who work 35 to 40 hours a week. Nearly 27 million working days are lost each year in the UK due to workplace ill health and injury and it’s Environmental Health Practitioners (EHPs) who help to ensure high standards of health and safety in a range of areas.  Those EHPs working for local authorities provide advice to businesses on their legal responsibilities and enforce the law when businesses don’t comply.

Housing continues to make an appearance in the media and as a reminder, this area comes under the environmental health remit as poor housing conditions in the private rented sector can be a major cause of accidents and ill health. The first story that appeared in connection with housing was an article in the Financial Times which relayed a warning from legal experts that the recent requirements for landlords to evict tenants who are illegal immigrants could incur thousands of pounds in court costs and bailiffs’ fees for tenants who refuse to move on.

The CIEH has fundamental reservations about the Government’s new proposals, including: why are landlords being asked do the job of the UK Border Agency; the impact on the housing options of legal migrants, who are disproportionately dependent on the private rented sector and are already more likely to be exploited by disreputable landlords; and the knock-on impacts for hard-pressed local authorities.

Furthermore, in the Economic Voice, there was a report that suggested only a third of Brits know their rights as a renter. The majority of landlords provide good quality housing but if tenants in the private rented sector are not aware of their rights, it is the small amount of unscrupulous landlords that could take advantage.

On a final note, more residents in Lancashire have been told they no longer have to boil their water following the outbreak of a parasitic bug in supplies. Whilst this issue was never one for the CIEH as Environmental Health Officers enforce the regulations for private water supplies, it is encouraging to know that people in the North West are now able to gain access to a clean and hygienic water supply.

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