Are you confident about the hygiene checks that take place in your local restaurants? We found that compliance with food hygiene rules can vary hugely, depending on where you live.
It’s easy to take for granted that hygiene checks take place in restaurants, cafés and shops selling food.
But with local authority resourcing under pressure, we looked at the data they submit to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) on how they’re ensuring food businesses are meeting hygiene standards. Then we ranked them.
There was a lot of variation – as you can see in the local authority food hygiene enforcement map we created. For example, in 20 local authority areas, the chances of buying from a food business that isn’t meeting hygiene requirements was as high as one in three. In the lowest-rated local authority area – Hyndburn – this rose to nearly two in every three outlets.
Food hygiene enforcement shouldn’t be fudged
We’ve carried out this research now because there are a lot of challenges facing food law enforcement. So we want the FSA and Food Standards Scotland (FSS) to make sure there is a more robust system in place.
Food production and supply chains can be very complex, and when we leave the EU, we’ll also need to take on checks that are currently overseen by the European Commission, including more checks on imports.
The FSA and FSS are reviewing the system and starting to come up with proposals. This includes some positive steps, such as strengthening the checks before businesses can start to trade (the current registration system is more of a paper exercise).
They’re also making greater use of data to assess how companies are complying and focusing on third-party checks that businesses would pay for.
How to approach hygiene inspections
Our research shows that some local authorities are clearly struggling to keep on top of inspections and drive compliance. But overall, around 87% of businesses are complying.
There needs to be great caution about moving away from an independent system. Companies should be doing their own checks if they care about food safety, but that shouldn’t mean that they aren’t overseen by independent public authorities. There is a lot of specialism and expertise across the country. There is also a mix of businesses of varying complexity.
A much more strategic approach is therefore needed. This should include a greater role for the FSA and FSS in policing more complex and higher risk businesses, as well as sharing of expertise and resources at regional level.
How important do you think hygiene checks are? How would you feel if companies employed by businesses were doing these checks in place of local authorities? Would you have confidence in the hygiene rating (‘score on the door’) if they were?