New Which? analysis has revealed the best and worst areas of the UK for food hygiene standards, as under-resourced local authorities struggle at the same time as a rise in complaints about food standards and hygiene.
Using data from the 2016/17 Local Authority Monitoring System (LAEMS), collected by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), Which? analysed and ranked 390 local authorities across the UK using the following criteria: percentage of high and medium-risk food businesses compliant with food hygiene standards; percentage of food premises opened but not visited or rated for risk; and interventions required that have been carried out.
Birmingham City Council and Hyndburn Borough Council were ranked as the worst areas for food hygiene enforcement for the second year running.
Birmingham had a poor record for carrying out inspections within 28 days of a food business opening, with 16 per cent of the city’s more than 8,000 food businesses yet to be rated. 43 per cent of Birmingham’s high and medium-risk food businesses didn’t meet food compliance standards.
The Lancashire borough of Hyndburn, where Accrington is the biggest town, was the second worst area in the UK for food hygiene in 2016/17. Whilst 98 per cent of its businesses had been rated for risk, just two in five of its medium and high-risk food businesses met food hygiene standards, compared with 98 per cent in Harrogate, which is about an hour away in North Yorkshire.
Coming out at the top of the table for food hygiene for a second year was Erewash Borough Council, in East Derbyshire. It carried out planned interventions on all failing premises, and an impressive 97 per cent of its medium and high-risk establishments are compliant with hygiene standards.
Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, in Hampshire, came in a close second, with 96 per cent of medium and high-risk premises meeting food compliance standards and 99 per cent of food businesses inspected and rated for risk.
Three Rivers District Council, in Hertfordshire, saw the biggest improvement between our 2015/16 and 2016/17 investigations. It jumped into the top 100 after being ranked among the worst 25 per cent of areas in the previous analysis.
Responsibility for enforcing food safety falls to Environmental Health teams within local authorities, overseen by the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland.
However, this research shows many local authorities are struggling to meet their responsibilities and Which? has concerns about their ongoing ability to do this as Brexit threatens to increase their workload keeping track of food standards.
With Brexit on the horizon, the Government is under pressure to safeguard current food standards, as it will need to step up checks on imports and potentially look to negotiate trade deals with countries with lower food standards.
Alex Neill, Managing Director of Home Products and Services, said:
“When it comes to food, British consumers expect the very best standards for themselves and their families.
“But our enforcement regime is under huge strain, just as Brexit threatens to add to the responsibilities of struggling local authorities.
“Effective food enforcement must be a Government priority, including robust checks on imports as well as co-operation with the EU and other countries on food risks”.
Notes to editor
On average, across the UK there was one food hygiene enforcement officer per 403 food businesses. This has coincided with a 5.5% increase in the number of food premises that have yet to be rated compared with two years previously – meaning that in 2016/17, 1,697 more businesses were running without a food hygiene rating compared to 2014/15.
Complaints about food hygiene and quality in 2016/17 were also up 23.5 per cent on the previous year – yet the number of formal food hygiene enforcement actions dropped by 1.4 per cent.
Using the 2016/17 Local Authority Enforcement Monitoring System (LAEMS) hygiene data collected by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), we ranked 390 local authority areas in the UK based on three factors.
- the percentage of medium and high-risk premises that are compliant with food hygiene standards
- the percentage of premises that have opened but not yet been rated for risk; and
- the proportion of interventions required, that have been carried out.
We scored each local authority area against the UK average for each of the three criteria, and then combined those scores giving 50% of the weighting to the indicator for compliant high and medium risk premises – as their main purpose is to ensure compliance – and 25% of the weighting to each of the other two criteria.
All food businesses are rated on a risk scale from A to E, with A being high risk. Businesses can be rated high risk because of their type – for example large-scale manufacturers with a lot of customers, large packers, those supplying more vulnerable people and businesses carrying out more specialist processes. A business can also be high-risk if it is significantly failing to meet food hygiene standards. An A-rating raises the risk profile of the business so it is more regularly inspected by officers.
Top 10 ranked local authorities are:
- Basingstoke and Deane
- North Dorset
- South Kesteven
- West Dorset
- Staffordshire and Moorlands
- Orkney Islands
Lowest 10 ranked local authorities are:
- Isles of Scilly
- Waltham Forest
Birmingham told us it inspected the second highest number of premises and closed more than any other English local authority.
Hyndburn claimed 92.5% of its food businesses are now compliant and it has taken ‘significant strides to improve food hygiene’.
Food Standards Scotland (FSS) said our analysis doesn’t take into account the “wide range of enforcement actions and other initiatives applied by local authorities”, nor reflect local authority enforcement policies, resources and responses to FSS audits.
Local authorities in Camden, Croydon, Glasgow and Hyndburn said they are employing more staff.
Use our interactive map to view how each region performed in the Which? rankings
Read our consumer research into food standards here: https://consumerinsight.which.co.uk/articles/brexitandfood