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Written - Local Authority Food Hygiene Inspections
There have been recent press articles which referred to data released by the Local Government Data Unit – Wales on local authorities’ performance in inspecting food premises. The Local Government Act 1999 requires local authorities to collect and report these data, and to have them independently audited.
The Food Standards Agency also has a statutory duty to monitor local authority performance in relation to food law enforcement. The focus of the Food Standards Agency performance monitoring is on a risk based approach to enforcement followed by all local authorities in the UK. The figures collected by the Food Standards Agency are reported to the Agency’s Board and published on the web site www.food.gov.uk . The 2005/2006 figures will be presented to the Board in February 2007 and will be available on the web prior to the meeting. The Agency reports UK trends in food law enforcement; and on levels of service delivery by individual local authorities, and reports to the European Union on UK levels of food law enforcement, as required under EU legislation.
The Food Law Code of Practice risk rating scheme grades food hygiene premises from A to E and the top 2 categories A and B are considered High Risk premises. Category A premises are inspected at least every 6 months and Category B at least every 12 months. The statistics relate to inspections rather than premises.
Preliminary examination of Food Standards Agency statistics, which are not yet finalised, show that:
- Out of a total number of 3,725 food hygiene inspections due, Welsh local authorities completed 3,478 inspection visits in 2005-06.
- Fifteen of the twenty two local authorities in Wales inspected 96 per cent or more of their high risk premises. However in all of these authorities a total of just 17 inspections were not completed in accordance with the Code of Practice. Premises inspections follow a rolling programme and the premises reported as not inspected are, in practice, carried over and take priority in the programme of inspections in the next quarter.
- A further 5 authorities made more than 90 per cent of their planned inspections of high risk premises. In these authorities a further 102 inspection visits were not completed in accordance with the Code of Practice.
- Of the remaining two - one authority, which achieved just 85 per cent inspected, failed to make 8 visits and one authority with 68 per cent of inspections did not make 120 visits in the time period. This latter authority had a major outbreak that diverted significant staff resources away from food inspection work.
The method of premises inspection are changing in the light of the new European Hygiene Regulations and local authorities have a much enhanced role in educating business and helping them adapt to working with documented food safety management systems. This type of inspection may initially be more time consuming than previously and authorities suffering staff shortages and problems in recruitment for Environmental Health Officers suffer accordingly.
These inspections are, of course, just a part of the local authority interaction with food businesses. As part of its response to the Hampton review, the Agency has developed proposals for a new vision and strategy for food law enforcement. Hampton called for:
(A) a pattern of enforcement which could vary according to the nature of the
risk in each premises, rather than solely the inspection of premises; and
(B) assessments of service delivery to be focussed on outcome measures,
rather than on inputs.
The Agency is developing a new approach to food law enforcement by local authorities. The objective remains to protect public health by driving up levels of compliance with food law by food business operators. This new approach will enable authorities to focus resources into higher risk areas, to help achieve that objective more effectively. It is also in line with higher level objectives of the Agency’s Strategic Plan including “Food Safety” and “Delivering through Partnership”
This work aims to provide local authorities with a sweeping revision of the approach to food law enforcement in food premises, for both food hygiene and food standards, which will:
- focus on outcomes in terms of improving business compliance, and thereby improving the protection of public health
- be risk-based, using good intelligence and sound knowledge of the food premises;
offer local authorities a range of interventions, within the requirements of Regulation (EC) No. 882/2004, which will include alternatives to full inspections
- provide local authorities with the flexibility to choose the type of intervention which is appropriate for the particular circumstances of the individual food establishment
- enable local authorities to focus resources and actions on those cases which present the highest risk
- provide a system which covers all food establishments, including food producing farms and those subject to approval; and
place more emphasis on:
- the food safety management
- the confidence in management, and
- the track record of performance by the management of the food business
The Agency is running the following four major reviews. In each case, key stakeholders are being consulted, colleagues in FSA Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are fully involved, and there will be a full consultation exercise with all local authorities. Details are:
- a review of enforcement policy, to introduce interventions; this will lead to a revision of the Code of Practice and accompanying Practice Guidance. (The Code sets out the detailed requirements for enforcement of the law which local authorities have to meet.) Work is currently in progress, and a full consultation on this review is planned for early 2007, with the new policy completed by June 2007, and a revised Code of Practice and Practice Guidance published by August 2007
- a review of the monitoring system (which gathers details of local authorities’ enforcement actions) aiming to make the system simpler and easier to use, to adapt to the new policy on enforcement, and to introduce effective outcome measures. Full consultation on these proposals was published on 31 July 2006. It is planned to introduce the new system in 2007-08, on a graduated basis in parallel with the new enforcement policy
- a review of audit arrangements, to build on the strengths of the existing process, taking account of the new enforcement policy and of new EU requirements. The proposals are currently being developed in parallel with the other enforcement related reviews, and full consultation on the audit proposals will take place in mid 2007, with completion by December 2007; and
- a review of the Framework Agreement, which is the bedrock document in which all of these policies and arrangements are set down. This review will incorporate the outcomes of the first three reviews, and will therefore take place during 2007, with final decisions planned for the end of the year. Those decisions will be taken in the existing Enforcement Liaison Group, which includes key stakeholders.
It is therefore planned to introduce the new approach during 2007-08, from August onwards, as reviews are completed. There will, however, be significant work for the local authorities in adapting to the new arrangements, and a major training programme on the new enforcement policy and new monitoring system will be needed. Work to develop that training programme will be pursued over the next six to eight months. Therefore 2007-08 will be treated as a transitional year, and 2008-09 will be the first full year of the new system.