One in five high or medium risk food establishments in the UK fail to meet food hygiene requirements, leading to around 500,000 food poisoning cases a year, it has been claimed.
Research from consumer rights group Which? discovered that in 20 local authority areas the chances of someone buying from a food business that isn’t meeting hygiene requirements was as high as one in three, while in the lowest-rated local authority area, Hyndburn, this rose to nearly two in every three outlets.
As the Food Standards Agency (FSA) embarks on a fundamental review of how the food enforcement system works, Which? analysed the data submitted to the FSA and Food Standards Scotland by 386 UK local authorities.
The local authority areas were then ranked based on the proportion of medium and high risk premises meeting hygiene requirements, the proportion of total premises rated for risk, and the proportion of planned interventions (such as inspections or follow up actions) the authorities achieved.
Hyndburn in Lancashire was found to be the local authority area with the lowest ranking, with only 35% of its medium and high risk businesses meeting acceptable hygiene standards.
Birmingham, with 8,071 food businesses, was second from bottom overall, with only 59% of medium to high risk businesses found to be broadly compliant with hygiene rules.
In contrast, 82% of medium to high risk businesses were compliant in Leeds, which has a comparable total of 7,603 premises.
Four London local authority areas (Newham, Ealing, Lewisham and Camden) were all ranked in the bottom 10.
The highest ranking local authority areas according to Which?’s analysis were Erewash in Derbyshire, which topped the table with a 97% compliance rate, and Sunderland, which was found to be the highest ranking Metropolitan Borough in England.
Since the last analysis two years ago, the five most improved local authority areas were Bexley, Sunderland, Stockport, South Cambridgeshire and Barrow-in Furness. Furthermore, Bexley is now ranked number one in London, despite being bottom of the UK-wide table four years ago.
An interactive map of the regional rankings highlights the variations.
With food production becoming ever more complex at a time when the resources of regulators and local authorities are under pressure, the FSA and FSS review will look at options such as tighter checks when a food business opens and how data from businesses can be used more effectively.
However, Which? is concerned that proposed reforms could see a potential shift towards more inspections being carried out by third parties employed by businesses in place of checks by public authorities.
Which? has requested that regulators ensure that a robust food standards system is put in place to better serve consumer interests and avoid any conflicts of interest.
In a landscape that is heavily underpinned by EU regulation, a comprehensive strategy for enforcement post-Brexit is needed, as the UK is likely to take on much more responsibility for checks on imported food products.
Alex Neill, managing director of home services at Which?, said: “People expect their food to be safe, but there is clearly still work to be done. As we prepare to leave the EU, the Government and regulators need to ensure that there is a robust, independent system of enforcement in place to give people confidence that the food they’re eating is hygienic.”
According to the report, the best performing local authority areas for food hygiene enforcement are:
|6||Basingstoke and Deane|
The lowest ranking local authority areas for food hygiene enforcement are:
|7||Bristol, City of|
|9||Isles of Scilly|