Which? uncovers huge difference in food hygiene standards across the UK

With around 500,000 food poisoning cases a year, new Which? research reveals there is still a huge variation in food hygiene standards across the country, with  one in five high or medium risk food establishments failing to meet requirements.

Which? found that in 20 local authority areas the chances of someone buying from a food business that isn’t meeting hygiene requirements was as high as 1 in 3, and in the lowest-rated ​local ​authority area, Hyndburn, this rose to nearly 2 in every 3 outlets.

As the Food Standards Agency (FSA) undertakes a fundamental review of how the food enforcement system works, Which? analysed data submitted to the FSA and Food Standards Scotland by 386 UK local authorities and ranked those local authority areas based on: the proportion of medium and high risk premises meeting hygiene requirements,  the proportion of total premises rated for risk, and the proportion of planned interventions (such as inspections or follow up actions) the authorities achieved.

The lowest ranking local authority areas according to Which?’s analysis include:

  • Hyndburn in Lancashire was the local authority area with the lowest ranking with only 35% of its medium and high risk businesses meeting acceptable hygiene standards.
  • Birmingham, with 8071 food businesses, was second from bottom overall, with only 59% of medium to high risk businesses found to be broadly compliant with hygiene rules. In contrast, 82% of medium to high risk businesses were compliant in Leeds, which has a comparable total of 7603 premises.
  • Four London local authority areas (NewhamEalingLewisham and Camden) were all ranked in the bottom 10.

The highest ranking local authority areas according to Which?’s analysis include:

  • Erewash in Derbyshire, which topped the table with a 97% compliance rate.
  • Sunderland as the highest ranking Metropolitan Borough in England.
  • The five most improved local authority areas since our analysis two years ago are: BexleySunderlandStockportSouth Cambridgeshire and Barrow-in Furness.

Bexley is now ranked number one in London, despite being bottom of the UK-wide table four years ago. An interactive map of the regional rankings highlights the variations.

With food production becoming ever more complex at a time when the resources of regulators and Local Authorities are under pressure, the FSA and FSS review will look at options such as tighter checks when a food business opens and how data from businesses can be used more effectively. However, Which? is concerned that proposed reforms could see a potential shift towards more inspections being carried out by third parties employed by businesses in place of checks by public authorities.

Which? is calling on the regulators to ensure that a robust food standards system is put in place that serves consumer interests and avoids any conflicts of interest.

In a landscape that is heavily underpinned by EU regulation, a comprehensive strategy for enforcement post-Brexit is needed, as the UK is likely to take on much more responsibility for checks on imported food products.

Alex Neill, Which? Managing Director of Home Services said:

“People expect their food to be safe, but there is clearly still work to be done.

“As we prepare to leave the EU, the Government and regulators need to ensure that there is a robust, independent system of enforcement in place ​​to give people ​confidence that ​the food they’re eating is hygienic.”

 Notes to eds

1.    Using the 2015/16 Local Authority Enforcement Monitoring System (LAEMS) hygiene database collected by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), we ranked 386 local authority areas in the UK.

We used three indicators that we designed to compare authority areas based on how many of their high or medium risk food businesses are complying with hygiene rules, as well as how pro-active the local authority is in ensuring compliance. We have therefore taken account of:

  • the proportion of medium and high risk premises that are compliant
  • the proportion of total premises that have been rated for risk; and
  • the proportion of planned interventions (eg. inspections or follow up actions) the authority achieved.

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.

The hygiene risk of a business is based on several factors, including type of food, the number/type of consumers at risk, method of processing or handling food and confidence in the management.

2.    It is the responsibility of businesses to make sure that they are meeting hygiene standards but it’s up to local authorities to enforce compliance, and enforcement is overseen by the Food Standards Agency.

Which? believes a reformed and robust food standards system will require:

  • a much more in-depth understanding of the hazards and risks that businesses face
  • a more strategic sharing of responsibilities between the local authorities and regulators,
  • implementation of stronger import and export checks post-Brexit
  • creation of meaningful incentives for compliance, such as the mandatory display of Food Hygiene Rating Scheme scores
  • uphold the independence of the enforcement system

3.    The best performing local authority areas based on these indicators for food hygiene enforcement are:

1 Erewash
2 Eden
3 Brentwood
4 West Dorset
5 Sunderland
6 Basingstoke and Deane
7 Orkney Islands
8 North Dorset
9 North Devon
10 Hartlepool


4.    The lowest ranking local authority areas based on these indicators for food hygiene enforcement are:

1 Hyndburn
2 Birmingham
3 Newham
4 Ealing
5 Lewisham
6 Camden
7 Bristol, City of
8 Edinburgh
9 Isles of Scilly
10 Manchester

5. Ealing Council commented that its enforcement is one of the highest in the country, and that in 2015/16, they served the third highest number of food hygiene prohibition notices in the UK and concluded the fourth highest number of prosecutions. They say they have one of the highest numbers of food premises in London with more than 3,250 establishments including large, high-risk food manufacturers, restaurants, cafes and shops.

6. City of Edinburgh Council commented that its Environmental Health Team robustly inspect and assess food premises, providing written advice and guidance on what they must improve in order to achieve a pass. The Council does not accept that the database was designed to rank authorities in the way suggested.

7. Council of the Isles of Scilly commented that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) conducted an audit in September 2013 and a number of issues were highlighted with the service delivery of food law enforcement.  Since February 2015 it says it has addressed the majority of the action points highlighted in the FSA Audit Report and is working to ensure that all food premises are inspected at a frequency as described in the Food Law Code of Practice.

8. Birmingham City Council commented that “the Risk Ratings are reflective of the conditions found at the inspection and the need for those premises to have more frequent unannounced inspections…  Officers Risk Rate premises based on the conditions found at the inspection, so that we can inspect the poorest premises more frequently.  This is in accordance with the FSA code of Practice.  The score will not change until the next unannounced inspection….  The whole point of this is to risk rate all our premises so we can prioritise the poorest performing businesses.”  Birmingham City Council also commented that it is not responsible for a 3rd party complying with the law, but that   it is however responsible for enforcing the law where failures are found.


Press Release