Food Law News - UK - 2001

FSA Press Release (2001/0153), 11 October 2001

'Serious Deficiencies' Found in Food Law Enforcement in Copeland - Further Improvements Needed in Hillingdon to Meet Standard

Two in-depth audit reports on the food law enforcement services of Copeland Borough Council and London Borough of Hillingdon showed 'significant' and 'serious deficiencies' which could compromise consumer protection in these areas, the Food Standards Agency revealed today. In both cases the Agency has worked with the local authorities to agree detailed action plans to address the problem areas.

The reports were published as part of the Agency's audit programme to raise the quality of food law enforcement throughout the country and provide consumers with better protection at a local level.

The Copeland report reveals inadequate systems including inaccurate and incomplete databases and records of food premises and their histories. The actual enforcement work itself was also found to be flawed on occasions, including a failure to follow the authority's own enforcement procedures which can undermine enforcement for food safety failings. Staff were also found to not always have the right training and qualifications to do the job.

However the report also showed that Copeland food surveillance and sampling was dealt with in a sound and responsible way and that the Authority was involved in proactive food safety promotion work and providing business advice.

The Hillingdon audit revealed that it had recently carried out a complete review of its food law enforcement service and had implemented changes resulting in many improvements. However, at the time of the audit, there were a number of significant deficiencies that still needed to be addressed, many of which had already been identified in the review. These included ensuring the database of food businesses was accurate and up-to-date, increasing the number and frequency of inspections to at least the minimum required and addressing the Authority's food standards and feedingstuffs responsibilities.

The audit found that Hillingdon had clearly identified a strategy for improvement including an action plan, and had begun making major changes to both the organisational structure of the service and to work practices. It also showed that reports of recent inspections were in full accordance with the regulations and the majority of procedures and forms developed in-house were clear, useful and would assist in record-keeping.

Sir John Krebs, Chairman of the Food Standards Agency said:
"Local food law enforcers are in the front line of food safety and play a very important role in protecting consumers in their area. When there are question marks over fundamental issues such as the qualification, training and experience of authorised officers, record keeping, or even the adequacy of an authority's database of local food businesses there is, quite rightly, concern over whether consumers are being given sufficient protection. The audits found that Copeland and Hillingdon were strong in certain areas, but it was apparent that there were serious deficiencies which could compromise overall local enforcement. This is not acceptable. Both of these authorities are very aware of our concerns and have worked with us to put together action plans that address these problems as quickly as possible. We will be checking the progress they have made in six months.

"To the credit of Copeland and Hillingdon, they are both keen to raise their game, and along with other local authorities audited so far, want to work with us to improve their service. I am confident that they will soon start to provide an improved food law enforcement service, one that consumers have every right to expect and one which Copeland and Hillingdon are legally required to deliver."

The audit examined Copeland and Hillingdon's food law inspection activity, the arrangements they have in place to sample and analyse food, their management controls, the advice they give to food businesses and consumers and also how they deal with complaints.

Copeland Borough Council serves a population of 71,500 and enforces the law in over 1,100 premises. Hillingdon serves a population of approximately 250,800 and enforces the law in over 2,100 premises.

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