The number of official samples taken and food standards controls in England, Wales and Northern Ireland has declined from last year, according to statistics published by the Food Standards Agency.

Figures cover food law enforcement by local authorities across these three countries for the year ending March 2019. They are provided by local authorities and compiled by the Food Standards Agency (FSA). Data are collected using the web-based Local Authority Enforcement Monitoring System (LAEMS).

Food hygiene covers microbiological quality and contamination by microorganisms or foreign matter and food standards entails composition, chemical contamination, adulteration and labeling.

A decline in official samples and standards controls

For food standards controls, which cover authenticity and food fraud, the percentage of planned interventions decreased to 40.8 percent from 42.3 percent the previous year.

The overall figure of due interventions achieved reflects the low levels in England compared with Wales and Northern Ireland.

“We are aware from local authority feedback that there is a continuing trend for more intelligence-led approaches to be adopted for food standards, particularly for establishments in the lower risk categories,” according to the report.

The number of reported official samples taken was 43,768, a decrease of 3.2 percent from the previous year. There was a slight increase in microbiological analyses but other checks fell.

There were 21 English authorities that reported no sampling data during 2018/19, 14 of which were district councils. This compares with 16 English authorities, including 10 district councils, that had zero samplings in 2017/18. The main reason for this was resource issues.

“It remains concerning that there has been another decrease this year in the percentage of planned food standards interventions undertaken. To address this long-standing issue, we are working closely with local authorities to develop a new sustainable model for food standards interventions which will include a mix of inspections and the use of better intelligence and surveillance,” said Maria Jennings, director of regulatory compliance at the FSA.

Worcestershire’s public analyst laboratory is to close later this year. Worcestershire County Council took the decision to close the scientific services lab by Dec. 31, 2019. The lab has been operating since 1877. It had developed expertise in DNA techniques and was the only U.K. lab accredited for screening Chinese rice for genetically modified organisms.

The closure is due to increasing budget pressures, a continued decline in sample numbers and the end of support from the FSA, according to the Association of Public Analysts (APA). Last year, Staffordshire Scientific Services closed and the public analyst function at West Yorkshire Joint Services ceased.

Food hygiene findings

Local authorities in England, Northern Ireland, and Wales reported 78,605 consumer complaints dealt with during 2018/19 representing an increase of 1.3 percent in 2017/18. Hygiene complaints dealt with increased by 2.7 percent to 68,020 in 2018/19 and food standards complaints decreased by 7 percent to 10,585 in 2018/19.

The number of planned food hygiene interventions by local authorities increased to 86.3 percent compared with 85.1 percent in 2017/18.

The percentage of food establishments ‘broadly compliant’ with food hygiene law – meaning standards are equivalent to a food hygiene rating of 3, 4 or 5 – increased slightly to 90.7 percent from 90.2 percent in the previous year.

A total of 4.5 percent of food sites were rated as having an unsatisfactory level of compliance, meaning improvements were necessary, compared with 4.7 percent in the previous year and 4.8 percent of premises were yet to be risk-rated.

“It is good to see an increase in the total percentage of planned hygiene interventions that local authorities are carrying out and an increase in premises with standards equivalent to a food hygiene rating of 3, 4 and 5,” said Jennings.

“Analysis of the data in this report will be used with a range of other information to assess the performance of all local authorities to give us a picture of local activities aimed at protecting consumers and maintaining confidence in the food chain.”

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