Food hygiene checks fall victim to council cuts

Food safety inspections scheduled by councils last year did not go ahead as planned in more than 60 per cent of cases, a National Audit Office (NAO) report has found.

Despite possible “catastrophic consequences” from safety failures, spending on food hygiene by local authorities fell by an estimated 19 per cent between 2012-13 and 2017-18 because of funding pressures.

Cuts to food hygiene and standards staff had led to some local authorities failing to meet their legal responsibilities to ensure businesses comply with the law, the report said.

Last year, only 37 per cent of planned standards checks were carried out by inspectors, according to the Government’s spending watchdog.

The findings come in the wake of the NHS listeria outbreak in which three patients were killed by hospital sandwiches in one of the worst cases of food poisoning in the health service.

The NAO said consumers needed better information about the food they eat, with only 52 per cent of food businesses in England displaying hygiene ratings in their premises.

It added: “The regulatory system is showing signs of strain with fewer food control staff in local authorities and delays in checks.”

Grahame White