Scores on the doors for food businesses

UK: Scores on the doors for food businesses


Monday, October 27, 2008

Leeds City Council's food hygiene inspection programme has led to the subject being put at the top of the agenda across the city. Their food and health service manager Ian Mallinson explains


Source of Article:

From the Food and Drugs Act of the 50s to the EU regulations of today food safety enforcement has come a long way. Some lessons have been hard learnt that practices are more important than premises, and that when a business gets it wrong food poisoning kills people and the media want to know why.

It is still the case that we arrive unannounced and have legal powers of entry to food premises, but modern systems of inspection are built around assessment of risk, looking at how well businesses have identified risks to food safety and most importantly how they are controlling them. The legal requirement to have a written food safety system based on hazard analysis principles is a real tester for some small businesses but the Food Standards Agency (FSA) "Safer Food Better Business" pack is a good starting point. Following inspection, premises are scored on a number of areas condition, safety of food handling practices and crucially our confidence in the management to deliver safe food consistently. The numerical score gives the premises a priority rating and date for the next inspection.

This is fine until the thorny issue of resources are considered too many due inspection dates and not enough staff, including other demands, food complaints, prosecutions and food poisoning outbreaks. We opted for use of external contractors to help us deliver our high risk inspections which required the steep learning curve of EU Tendering and team rearrangement to monitor contractor performance (currently seven individuals to be monitored), quite a different way of working.

One of the real positives for food safety promotion has been the introduction of the Scores on the Doors scheme. Using our inspection score gives a 0 to 5 star rating of premises which is then displayed for the public on a nationally available website. We have had very positive reactions from the public (over 200,000 hits on the website in the first year), trade and our own Chief Officer resulting in funds for active promotion of the scheme. Currently billboards advertise the website across Leeds and we are taking full page adverts in the "About Leeds" paper which goes to every home in the city. As part of our service plan we propose developing a scheme to write to every food premises on this year's inspection programme telling them we are coming soon and how they can improve their score. It will however be a challenge to adopt the alternatives to food premises inspection "interventions" proposed by the new FSA code of practice whilst having the confidence to properly re-rate the premises for the Scores on the Doors scheme.

Maintaining partnerships is essential, excellent connections with the Health Protection Agency/primary care trust paid dividends during the worst E Coli 0157 outbreak the city had ever seen, and DEFRA animal health and LACORS colleagues to cover action during the foot and mouth, bluetongue and avian influenza outbreaks this year. Professionally, delivering the annual Applied Food Microbiology Course in Leeds has really helped make connections with many organisations better still the individuals in those organisations who can help, as well as hundreds of colleagues in environmental health in local authorities nationwide and a few abroad.

We have some interesting projects in the service plan for this year, developing our inspection system for Primary Producers, which thankfully is not about persuading farmers to put wash hand basins in their fields, rather a pragmatic assessment of risk affecting foodstuffs at source. To enhance our scores on the doors scheme developing a healthier choices award for our food businesses, and seeking ways of delivering messages on low salt and low fat options during inspection. Our team has a lot of healthy stuff on its plate this year.



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