23,000 UK businesses given food standards warnings after EU allergy information crackdown………..
The number of UK food businesses subject to food standards warnings rocketed last year after new EU legislation came into force.
Enforcement data from the Food Standards Agency shows that 23,056 businesses were subject to varying levels of food standards warnings in 2015/16.
This represents an increase of 59 per cent compared to the 14,539 such warnings issued in 2013/14.
The increase follows the introduction of more stringent laws around the display of allergy information on food labels which came into force in December 2014.
These laws are set by the European Food Information Council (EUFIC), a non-profit organisation that seeks to improve food safety across the European Union.
Food labels must now display information on 14 different allergens including celery, soya and cereals containing gluten as well as things like nuts and shellfish.
Food standards and hygiene inspectors are employed by councils across the UK and are responsible for inspecting all the food establishments in their area and ensuring they comply with the law.
As many as 22,717 establishments were given written warnings for failing to comply with food standards last year, an increase of 56 per cent. A further 129 were given cautions while 210 were subject to more serious punishment such as prosecution or having food confiscated.
While it is not possible to know the individual reasons behind each caution or written warning, the FSA’s report states that the new EU rules on allergy information are likely to be behind the large increase overall:
“The increase in the previous year was probably a reflection of LA activity following the coming into force in December 2014 of provisions in the the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation.
“For example, this requires all food businesses to declare any of 14 identified allergenic ingredients used in non-prepacked or loose foods that are sold or provided.”
The figures show that some councils recorded massive increases in the number of warnings they were having to issue to local establishments.
Torbay Council recorded the biggest rise, issuing 288 written warnings in 2015/16 compared to just one written warning throughout the whole of 2014/15.
In addition to conducting food standards investigations councils are also required to assess food hygiene levels, with each businesses given a rating between zero and five.
The total number of food hygiene enforcement actions taken by councils also increased last year, but at a far slower rate than the food standards enforcement actions – up by 0.8 per cent.
Food standards and hygiene departments in local councils have been significantly cut back in recent years amidst pressure to find spending cuts.
There were 2,164 full time equivalent food hygiene and standards workers across the UK in 2015-16 compared to 2,779 in 2010/11.
Despite these staffing cutbacks, it seems that councils have managed to broadly keep pace with the increasing number of establishments that require inspection.
Nicky Harrison, Head of Regulatory Delivery Division at the FSA, said: “While these results provide reassurance that local authorities are prioritising resources and continuing to target their work, we continue to see lower staffing levels, which have continued to fall and which reduced by six per cent in 2015/16 compared with the previous year.
“We’re very aware of pressures on staff resources at local authorities and we are working with senior colleagues across the UK to ensure that effective controls are in place in local authorities to protect both consumers and food businesses.
“At the same time we are have started working together with local authorities, businesses, assurance providers and consumers in the design of a new smart, innovative and sustainable regulatory model for ensuring food is safe and what it says it is.”
By Patrick Scott .The Telegraph