Friday, 12 April 2013

The Food Standards Agency uncovered “significant concerns” about how Northumberland County Council carries out its food hygiene enforcement regime in the near-4,000 premises it is required to watch over.

Fear over Northumberland food safety after watchdog audit
by David Black, The Journal 12 April 12, 2013
County Hall in Morpeth
A CATALOGUE of concerns about how a North East council handles food safety checks and enforcement has been revealed in an official audit carried out by national watchdogs.
The Food Standards Agency uncovered “significant concerns” about how Northumberland County Council carries out its food hygiene enforcement regime in the near-4,000 premises it is required to watch over.
FSA auditors called on the council to carry out a fundamental review of its service delivery – including taking a number of urgent actions – and to demonstrate how improvements could be made to improve public safety. Findings of the critical audit included concerns about a large backlog of food businesses which were overdue an inspection, inspections being carried out by unauthorised officers, and inadequate record keeping.
They have raised questions about the council’s performance at a time when public concerns over food safety have been heightened by the horse meat scandal.
Yesterday, opposition councillors said they have been kept in the dark about the FSA report until told about it by The Journal, and will be asking urgent questions about its findings.
The FSA audit revealed there were about 600 lower-risk businesses in Northumberland which required assessment and intervention to make sure they continued to comply with the law. In addition, there were more than 700 registered food businesses that had yet to receive an intervention from the authority – contrary to the Food Law code of practice.
Auditors were told that about 600 premises inspection records and registration details had been “lost” during the formation of the unitary authority for technical reasons, although the council later said these files had been successfully retrieved.

Yesterday, Anita Romer, the council’s executive member for health and public protection, said she had been made aware of the audit findings before Christmas.
“Obviously, I was not pleased with the findings and I asked about the staffing arrangements that would happen as a consequence. Immediate measures were taken to act on the recommendations of the audit.”
Peter Jackson, leader of the opposition Conservative group, said: “I didn’t know about this matter and it is regrettable, to say the least, that the council has not seen fit to report this to councillors, whose role is to hold them to account and suggest improvements.
“They have had four years to get this right and it is not down to under-funding or staffing, so by the sound of it it’s a pure management failure. This is obviously a matter of public concern because people need to know that the food they are eating is trustworthy.
“If this FSA audit has not been reported to a scrutiny committee it suggests the council is trying to hide it from public scrutiny.”
Labour group leader, Grant Davey, said: “I am unaware of this audit and feel it is a disgrace that it has not been brought before our risk appraisal panel, which meets monthly.” Auditors found inadequate food establishment and intervention records were being kept across all enforcement activities, and those that were available were frequently incomplete.
Some officers were authorised to carry out enforcement activities under certain food regulations, but it was not clear whether there was sufficient in-house expertise to effectively carry out such duties.
The audit found there had been a past reliance on warning letters and return visits to businesses, but it was clear this approach had not always been effective in securing compliance, with repeated breaches frequently noted on consecutive inspections.
Following the audit, urgent actions required include confirmation that two businesses had stopped using equipment for both raw and ready-to-eat food, and a re-assessment exercise of all overdue and unrated businesses to make sure they were not affected by the FSA’s latest guidance on e.coli.
The FSA report says: “The authority fully co-operated with the agency, taking appropriate follow-up action as required.”
The audit examined the council’s enforcement records on hygiene improvement notices, and a voluntary closure, and concluded that these appeared to have achieved the desired effect in protecting public health.

The Link to the report on  FSA Report on failing foods stardards in our county

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