Posted: 03/11/2016

Inspection fees mooted in food regs shake-up

Heather HancockA major Food Standards Agency (FSA) overhaul of food safety and monitoring could see the end of free inspections of shops, restaurants and production sites by local authority Environmental Health Officers.

The ‘Regulating Our Future’ review, begun earlier this year, looks set to propose charging for at least some elements of the food inspection regime.

Speaking to MPs and stakeholders in Westminster on October 11, FSA chair Heather Hancock said “tell-tale cracks” were appearing in a regulatory system that had not kept pace with changes in the industry, technology, the economics of food businesses or the shift towards eating out and food-on-the-go.

Food authorities have a “one-size-fits-all approach to 600,000 food businesses” she said. “It’s designed around visits from inspectors bearing clipboards, which might be enough 20-30 years ago but isn’t now. “

We’re relying too much on visual inspection, when many critical food risks can’t be seen by the naked eye. It’s resource-intensive, and it will be unsustainable before too long.”

The FSA is also gathering evidence on whether to make the display of Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS) scores in shops and eateries mandatory in England. The display of “scores on the doors” has been required in Wales for three years and, as of this month, is compulsory in Northern Ireland too. A rise in five-star ratings in Wales from 45% to 63% since 2013 is seen as evidence the system drives up standards.

Hancock told MPs the move added nothing to the regulatory burden on small businesses “save for popping the sticker in the window”.

But a report of the FSA’s September 21 board meeting said its review of the FHRS would include “details on how we will use third-party providers and introduce paid-for elements in the system”.

The FSA recently set up a new industry advisory group to help with the review. But it is dominated by big business, with the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) the only major umbrella body representing small shops

Consultancy Food Solutions, which is also on the advisory group, told FFD it was concerned charges would discourage small firms from seeking advice from EHOs. “It’s the perception a charging regime creates,” said director Bob Salmon.

Tony Lewis, head of policy at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, told FFD the scale and manner of imposing charges would need to be clearly thought through and businesses would want “the best possible advice available for the best value”.

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