Increase the number of local inspections by combining food safety and health and safety inspectors, and then make the Food Standards Agency’s public rating system mandatory.

Those are among the food safety recommendations presented to the Prime Minister on Oct. 15 by Lord Young, who was asked by PM David Cameron to review health and safety issues for the new Coalition government.

Young, who heads up a company that invests in new technologies, was a government minister for both employment and trade and industry when Margaret Thatcher was PM.

He presented Cameron with a reported titled “Common Sense, Common Safety” that looks a safety issues across the board, including food safety.

“Each year over one million people suffer from food poisoning, more than 20,000 are hospitalized because of it and 500 die as a result of it,” Lord Young’s report says.

“There are areas where the work of food standards and health and safety coincide, and local authorities send out inspectors dealing with both.  There are undoubtedly efficiency savings to be achieved by combining both roles, and some authorities are already doing this.”

The report recommends combining food safety and health and safety inspections, including these additional suggestions:

  • Make mandatory local participation in the Food Standards Agency’s Food Hygiene Rating Scheme, in which businesses serving or selling food to the public will be given a rating of 0 to 5 that will be published in online databases in an open and standardized way.

  • Promote use of the scheme by consumers by harnessing the power and influence of local and national media.

  • Encourage the voluntary display of ratings, but review this after 12 months and, if necessary, make display compulsory–particularly for those businesses that failed to achieve a “generally satisfactory” rating.

  • Publish results of inspections by local authorities in online databases in an open and standardized way.

  • Open the delivery of inspections to accredited certification groups, reducing the burden on local authorities and allowing them to target resources at high-risk businesses.

 “The Food Standards Agency welcomes the very strong support Lord Young gives in his report to the national Food Hygiene Rating Scheme that we are introducing, FSA Chair Jeff Rooker said.

“We are pleased that Lord Young recognizes the clear benefits to having a single national scheme.  It will present consumers with easy to use information on food hygiene standards when eating out or shopping for food, and will provide a level playing field for businesses.

“Our scheme is now up and running and we are encouraging and supporting as many local authorities as possible to take part on a voluntary basis.  We are working closely with the first of them to come on board and with those that will be rolling out the scheme in their areas in the next few months.  We will also be promoting the scheme to consumers so that they will come to expect ratings to be displayed and draw their own conclusions where they are not.

“The FSA has always recognized the need to keep the voluntary display of ratings under review.  Assessing the voluntary approach after 12 months, as Lord Young suggests, will provide the opportunity to see if this approach has worked.”

The United Kingdom’s Food Hygiene Ratings, with a 0-5 scale, are very similar to the A-F letter grades being used by some local restaurant inspection authorities in the United States, including the New York City Health Department.

The purpose, according to FSA, is to help consumers choose where to eat out or shop for food by giving information about the hygiene standards in restaurants, pubs, cafes, takeaways, hotels, supermarkets, and other places people buy food.

Local governments in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, in partnership with the Food Standards Agency ,assign the ratings.   A slightly different program is being rolled out in Scotland.

Each business is given a “hygiene rating” (from 0-5) when it is inspected by a food safety officer from the business’s local authority.  The hygiene rating shows how closely the business is meeting the requirements of food hygiene law.

Currently businesses are only encouraged to display the stickers and certificates in public view. 

Young wants that to be a mandatory requirement after one year.