New government plans for food establishments are enough to make us sick

Food poisoning could rise under proposals to cut back inspections of more than 80,000 catering establishments

Plans to weaken the regulation of almost 90,000 restaurants, shops, and food businesses will play "Russian roulette" with public health, warned Mary Creagh, Labour's spokesperson on the environment, food and rural affairs, last night.

New proposals by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) will place around 86,000 "food establishments" in a lower category of risk – resulting in more than 14,000 fewer inspections by environmental health officers each year.

The change to the Food Law Code of Practice – which FSA officials admit is driven by financial necessity – comes just months after the horsemeat scandal which saw the Government come under attack for reacting too slowly, and at a time when cases of some of the most serious forms of food poisoning are at their highest in five years.

There are almost 600,000 food establishments in Britain, from manufacturers, producers and importers to shops and restaurants. Under the new measure, which will be presented to the Public Health minister, Anna Soubry, after a consultation ends next month, around 86,000 food premises will be put into a lower risk category. They will be moved from their current C grade, which represents medium risk to public health, to a lower D category, going from an inspection every 18 months to one every two years.

Mrs Creagh attacked the move: "Recategorising 86,000 businesses and reducing their inspections could end up impacting on consumer safety. The horsemeat scandal has shown that we cut regulatory services at our peril." She added: "Each year tens of thousands of people fall sick from food poisoning in the UK, and for some it can prove life-threatening. So downgrading these inspections is essentially the Government playing Russian roulette with public health."

Total cases of salmonella, campylobacter, E coli, norovirus and listeria, confirmed by FSA laboratory tests, have risen from 78,733 in 2008 to 97,489 in 2012. There are around a million cases of food-borne illness in the UK each year, resulting in 20,000 hospital admissions and 500 deaths, according to the FSA's chief scientist, Dr Andrew Wadge, with a cost to the economy estimated at £1.8bn a year through treatment and lost days of work.

While the number of food premises in the highest risk categories, A and B, remain unchanged, representing around 40,000 restaurants and businesses, those in the middle will be slashed by almost half. The proportion with a C-risk rating will fall from 42 per cent to 26 per cent, with an increase in those ranked D from 18 per cent to 34 per cent. One in three of Britain's food establishments is assessed at the lowest risk level, E.

The consultation document states that the move is aimed to create "better targeting of resources" and reduce the regulatory burden on compliant establishments, and that "increasing financial pressures" mean local authorities are "forced to focus" on establishments that present "the greatest risk to public health".

The food industry will save more than £1m a year, while the saving for the FSA is something "we are unable to monetise", says the document.

Concerns were raised by the Tory MP Anne McIntosh, chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, who said: "In the context of the recent horsemeat contamination incident, I am concerned that the Government plans to reclassify some food establishments as low risk."

The committee labelled the FSA as "flat-footed" and "unable to respond effectively" to the horsemeat scandal, and in a report last month said it "must become a more efficient and effective regulator of industry".

"At best, the new proposals could see more effort concentrated to improve "poorly performing, high-risk premises" commented Dr Lisa Ackerley, visiting professor of environmental health at the University of Salford. "However, it would be a great pity if, after downgrading premises and reducing their inspection frequency, the resources saved were not redeployed," she added.

In a statement, an FSA spokesperson said: "This change will ensure that local authority resources are focused on premises which are less compliant, and will benefit businesses which do comply. Where a local authority becomes aware of any evidence about poor standards in food premises or public health risks, they can carry out inspections and take swift action to protect public health."

But Jenny Morris, head of policy at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, cautioned: "Food businesses can change very rapidly and something that was fairly low risk can become high risk very quickly. There needs to be an early warning system in place. If there is no robust monitoring of businesses outside the routine inspection system then it is possible that risks will rise."

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face
books
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' is based on historical events
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
filmSir Ian McKellen will play retired detective in new film
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
'Molecular Man +1+1+1' by Jonathan Borofsky at Yorkshire Sculpture park
tv
News
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
Extras
indybest
News
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Analyst (Requirements gathering)

£23000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Data Analyst vacan...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I am interested in speaking to Data Migr...

Web Services Developer

£200 - £450 per day: Harrington Starr: Web Services Developer Web Services, WP...

Project Manager - (Housing Association, Prince 2) - Watford

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Project Manager - (Housin...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil