A total of 59,583 official food samples were said to be taken in 2016/17, a decrease of 11.3% from 2015/16 (67,165) for all types of tests and analyses. Official samples are analysed or tested by official control labs.
A total of 14 district councils did not do any sampling in 2016/17 with some saying this was due to ‘resource issues’.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) monitors performance through the Local Authority Enforcement Monitoring System (LAEMS).
Microbiological contamination made up 42,788 samples; other contamination 2,802; composition 12,649 and labelling and presentation 6,233.
Samples can be taken to pursue legal action if results show an offence and may be done for surveillance, monitoring and to provide advice to food business operators.
Complaints and enforcement action
Local authorities reported 85,220 consumer complaints about food and food establishments dealt with during 2016/17 – a 23.5% increase from 2015/16.
Hygiene complaints investigated (73,806) increased by 31.7% but standards problems looked into (11,414) decreased by 12.2%.
Reported numbers of food standards interventions decreased, with 117,971 in 2016/17, a fall of 8.1% compared to 2015/16 (128,364).
Food standard covers composition, chemical contamination, adulteration and labelling of food.
A total of 73 establishments had food seized, detained or surrendered it as part of enforcement actions and 59 prosecutions were concluded.
A total of 394,192 food hygiene interventions took place in 2016/17, a decrease of 2.6% from 2015/16 (404,551).
Food hygiene covers microbiological quality and contamination by microorganisms or foreign matter.
Enforcement action saw more than 1,100 sites voluntarily close, hygiene improvement notices for 3,540 establishments and 333 prosecutions concluded.
Nina Purcell, director of regulatory delivery at the FSA, said local authorities are targeting activities at businesses where food safety risks are the highest or where fraud is more likely.
“But the decrease in planned interventions for food standards is concerning and while hygiene interventions are increasing there remains a 15% shortfall.
“We’re going to use this enforcement data, along with other intelligence, to identify and target underperforming local authorities so that we can work with them to secure improvements or tackle any particular problems they may have.”
In England, county councils are responsible for food standards only, district councils for food hygiene only, while London boroughs, metropolitan borough councils and unitary authorities do both.
Scores on English doors?
Meanwhile, the Local Government Association (LGA) has said displaying food hygiene ratings must be made mandatory after Brexit.
All food premises in England should be forced to display ‘Scores on the Doors’ ratings to improve hygiene standards.
Ratings cover food management, cooking methods and kitchen cleanliness and go from 0 (urgent improvement necessary) to 5 stars (very good).
Businesses in Wales and Northern Ireland are legally required to display the rating but those in England are not.
Local government leaders said current EU laws regulating food safety need to be kept after Brexit.
Councillor Simon Blackburn, chair of the LGA’s safer and stronger communities board, said the post-Brexit review of EU laws gives the government choices.
“The lack of a hygiene rating sticker in a business means customers are left in the dark on official kitchen cleanliness levels when eating or buying food there.
“A food hygiene rating distinguishes between appearance and reality. A food outlet may have nice décor but that doesn’t mean that hygiene standards are good enough to avoid being served a ‘dodgy’ burger or salad that could pose a serious risk to someone’s health.”
The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) backed the call.
Leon Livermore, CTSI chief executive, said mandatory ratings will help create a fair and level playing field for honest businesses, differentiating them from rogue competitors.
“It's about time England caught up with Wales and Northern Ireland in protecting consumers from unhygienic, and potentially dangerous, food outlets. We've seen shocking examples of bad practice that could pose serious health risks.”