Food Law News - UK - 2003

FSA News Item, 31 July 2003

ENFORCEMENT - Food sampling audits published

The Food Standards Agency has published the findings of a programme of audits looking specifically at food sampling by local authorities.

The food-sampling audit programme consisted of one-day audits of 15 local authorities, as well as visits to three public analysts and a public-health laboratory, between October and December 2002. The authorities were selected to represent a cross-section of local-authority types, geographical location and levels of food-sampling activity. The laboratories visited provide support to approximately half of the 415 English local authorities.

The Agency decided to carry out an audit programme on food sampling because of an apparent decline in sampling by English authorities and a wide variation between authorities in the number of samples being taken.

Food sampling forms an integral part of local-authority food-law enforcement and it can provide useful information to help effective enforcement of food law and contribute to improved food safety and standards.

The audit programme didn't identify one main reason for the variation in sampling levels between local authorities and the apparent decline in the total number of samples being taken. The findings show a number of contributing factors, including the different approaches to food sampling adopted by authorities, and the lack of national co-ordination of sampling activity.

The Agency Board considered the summary report at its July 2003 meeting (Papers FSA 03/07/03 and Annex 1 below) and agreed a number of recommendations on how the problems identified during the audit programme should be tackled.

This is the first of a series of focused audit programmes that the Agency plans to carry out to explore the reasons behind trends in specific areas of local-authority food-law enforcement.

Summary Report on Focused Audit Programme on Food Sampling in England October - December 2002

(Note: the full summary report analysing the results of the audits can currently be found on the FSA web site at: )

This report provides a summary of the findings from the focused food sampling audit programme carried out by the Audit Branch of the Agency's Local Authority Enforcement Division. The programme was carried out between October and December 2002. The report also makes recommendations for action relating to food sampling.
This summary report on the focused audit programme was prepared in consultation with the participating authorities and laboratories, and the Enforcement Liaison Group (ELG). The report should be read in conjunction with the 15 individual audit reports, which include agreed action plans to address their findings.

The Focused Audit Programme

The inclusion of focused audits in the Agency's audit programme for English local authorities in 2002/2003 was agreed by the Agency Board in May 2002. It was envisaged that focused audits would enable the Agency's auditors to carry out a greater number of in-depth audits looking at specific areas of enforcement activity, where inconsistencies in sampling levels and the approach to enforcement had been identified.

The Local Authority Enforcement Monitoring Report for 2000, published by the Agency in January 2002 highlighted a continuing decline in the level of food sampling activity being undertaken by local authorities.

Further investigation revealed that there was also a large variation in the sampling rates (number of food samples taken per 100 food premises) between LAs, including those of a broadly similar profile.

Information arising from the first year of the Agency's full audit programme also highlighted variations in the approach to local food sampling arrangements.

The Agency carried out one-day audits of 15 local authorities to specifically examine their food sampling activity. In addition visits were made to three Public Analysts (PAs) and 1 local Public Health Laboratory to consider their arrangements for the analysis and examination of food samples submitted by local authorities.The 15 focused audits assessed the performance of the LAs against relevant areas of the Standard.

Whilst the main focus was on the authorities' arrangements for food sampling, other areas of the Standard of relevance were looked at, including the authorisation and training of sampling officers and liaison arrangements with other authorities and the laboratories.

Local authorities were selected in order to obtain a cross-section of different types of authority and different levels of food sampling activity, based on data from returns to the Agency from local authorities for 2000.

Details of the authorities selected for audit are provided in the report, along with average and individual food sampling rates per 100 premises.

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