Local authority recovery, a Salmonella outbreak, food crime cases and prosecutions were among topics covered at the latest Food Standards Agency (FSA) board meeting.
Emily Miles, FSA chief executive gave an update on the local authority recovery plan for the United Kingdom, which covers July 2021 to March 2023, after disruption because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Councils have received a lot of new registrations and are concerned about the number of outstanding inspections. Many report food business compliance has got worse since they reopened, leading to more complaints, longer inspection visits and more enforcement, said Miles in a report to the board.
Of 112 local authorities concerned about not meeting minimum expectations in the plan in October in 2021, FSA has contacted 91 of them with 61 saying they are now on track and the remaining 30 cases ongoing. The other 21 are in the process of being contacted.
The October survey rated 5 percent at a high concern of not being able to deliver the goals in the plan and 18 percent were of medium concern.
Across England, Wales and Northern Ireland there was an increase in the number of businesses inspected. There was a decline in outlets awaiting inspection as firms were given a rating or found to not be trading.
A trial is ongoing using video streaming technology and software to allow officials to do remote audits. The FSA said early signs are encouraging, with a paper detailing findings set for a later board meeting.
Miles also gave an update on a Salmonella Enteritidis outbreak linked to handling frozen rodents imported from Lithuania.
More than 400 children younger than 9 years old have been affected. In total, there have been 921 cases since 2014. Monkfield Nutrition suspended import of Lithuanian mice in December 2021 and the products were withdrawn and recalled in the same month.
The European Commission responded in early January 2022 to an FSA and chief veterinary officer letter requesting action to tackle contamination at the source but Miles reported it offered limited assurance that the issue would be addressed by the Commission or Lithuanian authorities.
Defra-led efforts, with the FSA and Food Standards Scotland, plus other government departments, took further action and in mid-February the import of rodents from Lithuania was banned until the UK is satisfied that contamination is managed at source by Lithuanian authorities.
Food fraud and prosecutions
A public consultation on additional investigatory powers for the National Food Crime Unit (NFCU) is to be opened shortly. The agency was leading or supporting 36 operations at the end of the third quarter.
In terms of cases, Operation Endeavour is a new investigation between the NFCU and FSA which found several tons of unfit meat after an unannounced inspection at a food company.
Also, a Home Office consultation on classifying 2,4–Dinitrophenol (DNP) as a poison closed recently. DNP is sold as a diet pill but has been linked to more than 30 deaths in the UK since 2007.
The report also covered three convictions under the Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013.
Arsalaan Qasid was found guilty of obstructing an official veterinarian at Medina Pure Halal UK in November 2019 following a trial at Dudley Magistrates Court in December 2021. Qasid was fined £1,500 ($2,000) and ordered to pay prosecution costs of more than £7,500 ($9,800).
T Smith and Sons pleaded guilty to placing unsafe food on the market during a hearing at Leicester Magistrates Court in November 2021. Prosecution was taken after the business continued to sell raw cows’ milk to the public despite testing showing it failed to meet required microbiological limits. The company was fined almost £14,700 ($19,300) and ordered to pay costs of more than £3,000 ($3,900) during sentencing in January 2022.
Finally, GST, the operator of an approved poultry slaughterhouse, pleaded guilty to two offenses and was sentenced in January 2022. On two occasions, documentation was presented to the official veterinarian that did not match the turkeys being slaughtered on that day. The company was fined £10,000 ($13,100) and ordered to pay costs of more than £17,250 ($22,600).
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