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Significant decline in food safety inspections

By Tim Sandle     May 15, 2016 in Health
London - In the U.K. the number of food safety inspections conducted at places where food is served to the public have declined by 15 percent, due to government cuts. Is this placing consumers at greater risk?
In the U.K. food safety inspections were increased in 2003, with local inspectors encouraged to visit eating establishments and to rate premises on a score of 0 (meaning unfit for people to eat) to 5 (meaning excellent standards.) The scheme is based on assessing the cooking and preparation of food, plus contamination risks such as the way food is heated and cooled, plus storage areas. Other factors assessed include the structure and fabric of the food preparation area.
This approach to food inspections is risk based and the level of risk determines the frequency of inspection. Inspections should be conducted six-monthly for high risk establishments and three yearly for low risk places.
However, since the introduction of the scheme food inspection rates have decreased, being 15 percent down on the 2003 figure. The key reason is a lack of resources. In terms of the inspection rate, in 2003 there were 307,526 inspections and in 2015 the level was down to 260,765, based on data provided by the U.K. Food Standards Agency.
Due to the cuts, the new figures suggest the average business can now expect to be visited only once in every 20 years.
The Food Standards Agency acts as a watchdog. One of its functions is to overseeing how well local authorities conduct inspections. The data also indicates that the number of prosecutions for substandard establishments has also declined, dropping by 35 percent over the same time period.
According to Professor Steve Tombs, who works for the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at the Open University, told the BBC that "policymakers need to urgently address the radical reduction in local authority inspections and enforcement." The academic is concerned that consumers are being put at risk due to the low level of inspections.
Local councils in England have been subject to spending cuts. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that spending by local authorities has been cut by 20 percent between 2009-10 and 2014-15. This means tough choices are being made about which services are to be fully supported.
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