The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has introduced a revised model for delivering food standards controls.

These checks are carried out by local authorities or district councils to make sure food produced and sold by businesses is safe and what it says it is.   

FSA said the changes will help local authorities take a more risk-based and intelligence-driven approach to inspection, focusing time and resources on companies that pose the greatest risk.

This will mean more frequent checks on non-compliant businesses, whilst reducing controls for firms that can demonstrate good levels of sustained compliance.

The move follows a pilot with seven local authorities in England and Northern Ireland last year. A trial of the proposed food standards model in Wales is set to start shortly.

Katie Pettifer, FSA director of strategy and regulatory compliance, said it was vital local authorities had enough resources to protect consumers. 

“The FSA is very concerned about the decline in local authority resources for food standards work. The number of professional staff working on food standards in local authorities has halved over the last decade or so. The new model emphasizes the use of intelligence to disrupt the supply of fraudulent or unsafe food further up the food chain, before it hits the shelves,” she said.

There will be a phased approach to the model rollout across England and Northern Ireland, which is due to start this summer. Each local authority can transition to the new system but it must be in place by the end of March 2025.    

Consultation highlights
FSA revised the Food Law Code of Practice following a 12-week consultation. Councils and trading standards groups submitted comments as well as the Government Chemist, Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST), and Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH).

A number of responses supported the model but voiced concerns about whether local authorities have the resources to fulfill the requirements and whether the FSA is aware of the general lack of suitably qualified officers, which is causing recruitment challenges.

A decision matrix includes 25 different possible regulatory outcomes for businesses depending on the associated levels of risk and compliance, establishing 10 risk-based minimum frequencies for official controls of between one month and 10 years.

Other comments covered the inclusion of an allergens scoring risk factor, the use of remote assessments, the impact on food hygiene controls, the inspection of new companies within 28 days, the rise in online sales, and the role of industry private assurance schemes and Primary Authority partnerships.

CIEH backed the more risk-based approach but raised concerns about the level of support for authorities, the proposed frequency of controls, and required updates to management information systems.

“We welcome the fact the proposed changes enable local authorities to allocate their resources to higher risk businesses but think that by fully utilizing the capacity of the wider environmental health membership community this would serve to relieve much of the strain being felt by local authorities up and down the country,” said Phil James, CIEH chief executive officer.

“We must also acknowledge the fact that many local authorities are feeling the strain of being both overworked and under-resourced. We once again make the call for a much-needed injection of greater funds to enable local authority regulatory teams to deliver the vital services necessary for protecting the public.” 

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