Report calls for review of food plant inspections

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food standards agency, Food processing plants, Escherichia coli

A report into the mass outbreak of E. coli in Wales calls on the
UK's food regulator to look into whether there should be more
legislation and guidance on plant inspections.

The report, an outcome of a food poisoning outbreak that killed one boy and resulted in the closure of a manufacturer, could lead to more stringent inspections policy and a review of the rules giving local authorities the power to shut down plants.

The report makes eight recommendations for the Food Standards Agency (FSA). It calls on the FSA to review existing food legislation and guidance to local authorities in relation to how often they should inspect premises and whether there is any need for further legislation.

It also asks the FSA to look at whether the local authority correctly applied current legislation in relation to the closure of a meat processing plant owned by John Tudor and Son.

Wales acting chief medical officer David Salter said the report's findings were limited because of the ongoing police investigation into the cause of the outbreak.

The outbreak affected 158 people, mostly children, one of whom died. A review team was commissioned by the Welsh government to look into the response to the outbreak.

John Tudor cooked meat processor had to fight in court to reopen after it was closed down in the wake of an outbreak of E. coli 0157 in September. The court order was lifted last month and John Tudor and Son was allowed to resume trading following a new food safety inspection.

Previously, in September, spokesman Calyn Williams disputed claims by the UK's Food Standards Agency that the firm's cooked meat products led to the infection of 161 people, many of them school children, with E coli 0157. The outbreak occurred throughout south Wales, most of them at 42 schools.

"There is no evidence yet that the outbreak is linked to us,"​ Williams told FoodProductionDaily.com. "We are waiting for the results of the health tests. We have no further comment to make."

Investigations are continuing into the source of the E.coli outbreak.

Last month the UK's food safety regulator temporarily suspended a plan giving local inspectors the power to close down plants, a decision welcomed by a business lobby group.

The decision will provide relief to processors, who have seen an increase in regulatory supervision over the past few years under an EU-wide policy to increase food safety. A package of new hygiene laws came into force on 1 January.

In the UK, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) had planned to implement the hygiene regulations by also giving local plant inspectors new powers to close down businesses suspected of not having the proper hygienic conditions. The regulatory change was due to come into effect on 1 January, but that date has now been dropped.

The new powers would have given to much powers to local council's environmental health officers by allowing them to order the instant closure of a food business without reference to a third party, the Forum of Private Business (FPB) reported. The rule would have affected inspectors who check restaurants, pubs, retailers and food processing plants.

The FPB along with other lobby groups had called on the FSA to reconsider the regulation, citing worries that the new powers could be applied erroneously and lead to financial ruin for the business under investigation.

The FSA has shelved the proposal until further discussions can take place next year, the FPB stated. The FPB says giving such arbitrary power to a council environmental health officer amounts to a breach of human rights.

Under the proposed regulation, a firm would have only been able to appeal to a magistrate court, but any closure order would stand until a court heard the case. There was also no provision for compensation for loss of trade in the event of a mistaken closure order by an environmental health officer.

European consumers have become increasing concerned about food safety, mainly due to the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) scare in cattle beginning in the late 1980s, a foot and mouth disease outbreak in 2001 and of avian flu in 2003 and this year. Consumer concerns have in turn led to tougher regulatory action and increased survelliance of safety in food processing plants.

Also in September a Spanish cooked chicken processor owned by Nutreco was fined €600,000 by the country's food regulator for not providing enough information about the ingredients and production of the cooked chicken during previous inspections by health officials. Grupo Sada was found to have poisoned 2,700 people who ate its chicken with salmonella. Nutreco is a multinational corporation based in the Netherlands.

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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