Thousands of Sheffield businesses going unchecked by struggling food standards service
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Officers raised the alarm in a recent public meeting of the waste and street scene committee that hundreds of new businesses have been left unrated and thousands of established businesses were overdue inspections.
They said it was due to a myriad of issues including problems recruiting staff, cost of living and a backlog of jobs built up when Covid-19 stopped some of the service.
Ian Ashmore, head of environmental regulation, said: “We are doing everything we can to mitigate public health risks.”
But in a report prepared for the meeting, officers said although the plan will reduce backlogs it will not fulfil statutory obligations and there is a risk someone could get sick or die.
“Although primary responsibility for safe food practices rests with food businesses, there remains a residual risk to public health and there is also a potential reputational risk if we are unable to deliver our preventative work and any food safety incident occurs at an establishment we have not inspected within a time frame where a visit would be required,” the report stated.
Increasing risk as standards slip
There are 603 new businesses that have not yet been rated and need urgent visits.
Jennifer Marshall, safety manager with environmental regulation, said the food standards agency was questioning the council monthly on this.
She said: “We are really concerned…and we know that is an area that is likely to be really high risk.”
As well as new businesses, the service has a backlog of 3,000 low to medium risk inspections but believes some of these may now be high risk due to declining standards.
It said standards slipped since the pandemic and warned businesses may cut corners due to the cost of living crisis.
“The risks in the backlog businesses are likely to have increased over time, given the delay in official controls,” officers said.
Over the past year, most (26 per cent) of complaints to the service were about allergens and many more problems were identified when the team followed up with visits.
“A major concern for the authority is the risk to public health of a death or serious injury from an undeclared allergen present in food supplied in the city,” officers said.
There is currently a backlog of enforcement action on 487 premises reported to trading standards for breaking allergen rules – and 154 which are only partially compliant – following hygiene inspections.
The council said recent visits suggested many of these businesses since dealt with the problems but the council still has more than 3,000 overdue interventions and will have at least another 3,000 new interventions to work through as it carries out its action plan.
They are relying heavily on contractors to deal with the backlogs but despite securing a four-year contract to boost contractor capacity, it still is not enough to significantly reduce the number of overdue jobs.
Officers said: “Contracting resources have not yet returned to earlier levels and may never do as there are simply not enough qualified staff remaining nationally.”
Enforcement officers have delivered questionnaires to low risk businesses as alternatives to official inspections to help cope with workloads.