Were you shocked by the horsemeat scandal last year? New Which? research suggests that maybe this scandal was not so surprising, given the number of food checks actually taking place.
We expect to be sold food that is safe to eat and is what it says it is. So, many of us were shocked when last year it was revealed that horsemeat had found its way into many foods sold in our supermarkets. But the latest Which? investigation suggests that maybe this is not that surprising, as in some areas of the UK no testing is being carried out to check for food fraud.
Overall, work around food standards (checking food is what it is claimed to be) dropped by 16.8% from the year to March 2012, to the year to March 2013. And some local authorities are also struggling to ensure businesses comply with hygiene rules (see below).
Which? members can read the full findings in the article ‘How safe is your food?‘, published in the February issue of the magazine. Not a member? You can sign up for a £1 trial to Which? to get access to all our online reviews and advice, as well as our monthly magazine.
Best and worst local authorities for food hygiene
It is the job of food businesses to make sure the food they sell us is safe and authentic but the people checking they do this are under pressure. Food enforcement services have suffered cuts, like other public services, resulting in many staff being stretched.
We used data collected by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to compare local authorities in the UK on the service they provide to ensure the food we eat is safe. We identified the 10 best and worst local authorities overall, based on the number of premises ranked as high or medium risk which are broadly compliant with food hygiene ratings, how many were yet to receive a rating and the percentage of follow ups that had been carried out by local authority inspectors when poor standards had been uncovered. These are:
Best 10 local authorities in the UK: Cherwell, Brentwood, Basingstoke & Dean, Eden, Pendle, Ballymena, Ribble Valley, Rossendale, High Peak and Maldon.
Worst 10 local authorities in the UK: Bexley, Ealing, Medway, West Dunbartonshire, Wycombe, Harrow, Richmond upon Thames, Southwark, Moyle and Enfield.
In Cherwell, South East England, the highest scoring local authority in the UK, 97.6% of high- and medium-risk businesses are broadly compliant with food hygiene regulations, that is, they have a hygiene rating score of three or more stars. In Bexley, London, which is the poorest scoring, only 57.3% are broadly compliant.
Food hygiene ratings
All businesses preparing or serving food have to comply with hygiene standards. These include factories that make ready meals, supermarkets, hospitals, care homes, restaurants, schools and takeaways.
You can tell how well a business complies with food hygiene requirements by checking its food hygiene rating score. However, currently it is only compulsory for businesses in Wales to prominently display their scores.
Which? would like to see it become mandatory for all food businesses in the UK to display their scores so that consumers can trust the places in which they eat. The Northern Irish FSA is proposing to make it mandatory, the Scottish have consulted on powers that would enable mandatory display but the English are not proposing any changes to voluntary display.