for the month of June, 2012
Spill the beans on food safety risks, says FSA
Employees are being encouraged to spill the beans on food manufacturers that are jeopardising food safety by cutting corners in these cashstrapped times.
The Food Standards Agency’s (FSA’s) chief scientist Dr Andrew Wadge has called on the industry to make use of the FSA’s “whistle blowing procedure” to report businesses that are putting consumers’ health at risk by using poor food hygiene practices. Staff can report their employers and contractors their clients.
“We know through our incidents that things go wrong,” said Wadge. “And there is also a real challenge in a recessionary time such as this to ensure that people aren’t tempted to cut corners.”
School kitchen condemned by food safety inspectors
A village school’s crumbling kitchen had been branded unfit for purpose – although its staff have been rated as excellent.
As campaigners in Alnwick were celebrating news that the Duchess’s Community High School will be rebuilt, staff and parents of pupils at Rothbury First School were being told that their dining hall and kitchen had failed a cruicial food safety inspection.
The facilities, which date from the 1940s, received a one-star rating – based entirely on the condition of the building –after county officers visited in February. The report stated: “The standards of food hygiene and safety were found to be excellent, as was the confidence in the management (records and documentation). However, the actual structure of the kitchen is in a very bad state of repair and does not comply with the food hygiene regulations.”
Coun Steven Bridgett is urging Northumberland County Council to knock down the school hall and replace it.
“It was only ever meant to be temporary, yet here we are 70 years later and it is still being used,” he said. “The repair and refurbishment of this building has apparently been at the top of the council’s list for the last 20 years, yet we still find the building in such a poor state. We must see some action now, as it is no longer a case of just refurbishment.”
First FHRS mandatory scheme in the UK to operate in Wales
New proposals requiring food businesses such as restaurants, takeaways and supermarkets in Wales to display food hygiene ratings at their premises, are outlined today by the Welsh Government as it introduces its Food Hygiene Rating (Wales) Bill. It is designed to provide consumers with better access to information about where they eat or buy food and raise food hygiene practices among businesses.
Introduction of a mandatory food hygiene rating scheme is a commitment in the Welsh Government’s ‘Programme for Government’ and would be the UK’s first compulsory scheme. The Food Standards Agency has worked closely with the Welsh Government on its proposals to introduce this legislation
Bath convenience store company fined for hygiene offences
A Bath convenience store has been ordered to pay £19,932 after being prosecuted by Bath & North East Somerset Council for offences breaching food safety rules.
Bath Magistrates Court heard on 23 May that the company had breached Food Safety legislation in relation to a rat infestation found at the Martin McColls Store on Argyle Street, Bath, on 26 September 2011.
The company Martin McColls pleaded guilty to four charges:
- Failing to protect food from contamination that would make it unreasonable to be consumed in that state
- Failing to supply materials for cleaning and drying hands at the wash hand basin
- Failing to keep a food premises clean
- Failing to keep premises maintained in good repair and condition.
The Court heard that at an Environmental Health officer from Bath & North East Somerset Council carried out an unannounced food hygiene inspection on 26 September 2011.
The officer found evidence of an on-going rat infestation with pest droppings in food storerooms, and holes to walls and floors in these areas where rats had got in. The premises were found to be in a very poor state of cleanliness, with dirty floors and rubbish accumulating.
The officer also found chocolate bars with evidence of gnaw marks and torn food wrapping on chocolate products. Food in the storage rooms and on the shop floor was directly exposed to risk of contamination from rats, which are known to spread pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella and E-coli.
Robin Wood, the Council’s Senior Trading Standards Officer highlighted to the Magistrates that similar levels of poor hygiene had been found at an unannounced inspection of the premises carried out two years before. The Court was shown copies of Hygiene Improvement Notices issued to Martin McColls for hygiene breaches found and a collection of photographs taken from the premises over this time. These included photographs of rat droppings taken from the floor areas in the food storage rooms as well as torn and damaged food packaging.
Martin McColls Ltd was fined £5,000 for the charge relating to failing to protect food from contamination from rats and £3,500 for each of the other three charges. The Company was also ordered to pay costs of £4,417.30 and a £15 surcharge – a total of £19,932.30.
Councillor David Dixon (Lib-Dem, Oldfield), Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods, said: “Bath & North East Somerset Council strives to ensure that food businesses in our area are provided with as much support as we can offer to help them comply with the food safety requirements. Before undertaking any enforcement activity, businesses are given ample opportunities to improve the safety of their businesses under their own steam.
Sue Green, Bath & North East Somerset Council’s Service Manager for Public Protection, said: “As this case highlights, some businesses choose to ignore the helpful advice given by the Council’s Environmental Health officers during routine inspections. We will always seek to ensure that businesses who put the health of visitors and residents of Bath at risk, are brought to task for their shortcomings.”
To make it easier for consumers to choose places with good hygiene standards when eating out or shopping for food they can check the national Food Hygiene Rating atwww.bathnes.gov.uk/foodhygienerating. This hygiene rating shows how closely a business is meeting the requirements of food hygiene law by using a 0-5 rating and is awarded by Environmental Health officers and Food Safety officers after they have inspected a premises.
Many food businesses may also display their food hygiene rating on a sticker in their window or on their premises. 69.2% of Bath and North East Somerset’s food businesses achieve the highest rating of 5. The McColls store on Argyle Street is currently rated ’0′.
Consumers ignore use by dates
More people are putting their health at risk by eating food past its ‘use by’ date as they seek to cut down on their weekly food bill, according to research by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
A poll carried out for the agency revealed 22 per cent of respondents scanned use by dates ‘less strictly than previously’ as food prices increase. The weekly shopping bill was estimated to have risen by an average of £14.90 over the last three years.
People living in Wales were found to be least likely to stick to ‘use by’ dates.
In addition, 12 per cent said they thought the date was for guidance only. Thirty-nine per cent said they thought they could tell when food had gone off, despite the fact that some deadly food bacteria are undetectable.
FSA food safety expert Bob Martin said: ‘It’s tempting to just give your food a sniff to see if you think it’s gone “off”, but food bugs like E.coli and salmonella don’t cause food to smell off, even when they may have grown to dangerous levels. So food could look and smell fine but still be harmful.
‘These dates provide helpful information on how long food will stay safe for, so it’s very important you stick to the “use by” date. Other dates marked on foods focus less on food safety. The “best before” date relates to food quality and can be treated more flexibly, while “display until” dates are there to help shop staff to manage stock.’
The research also unveiled a certain amount of confusion over labelling, as 11 per cent of respondents said they thought ‘use by’ dates were used by supermarkets to ‘make you buy more’.
Last year Defra issued new guidelines urging businesses to avoid using ‘sell by’ dates, which have no statutory basis and are used for stock control rather than food safety.
The FSA also gave its backing to WRAP’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign. Emma Marsh, community partnership manager at the campaign, said: ‘Food is there to be eaten, so this Food Safety Week let’s enjoy our leftovers and do it safely.’
According to research by Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), of the 8.3m tonnes of food and drink waste thrown away by UK households each year, at least 60 per cent is ‘perfectly edible’.
David Kidney, CIEH head of policy, said: ‘I understand the pressure household budgets are under, but people shouldn’t take chances over food safety. The health consequences of food poisoning can be severe, even deadly.’
Steve Naldrett, director at Ardan Training Consultancy Limited say ” I never fail to be surprised how these date marks are misunderstood when we conduct training courses. Many delegates routinely ignore these dates, mainly because the do not fully appreciate the consequences of eating food that is past its “use by” date. Most assume if it smells nice then it will be fine.”
Inspection cuts put 'lives at risk'
Health experts have warned government plans to cut back on proactive health and safety inspections to focus on higher-risk premises could put lives at risk, as the number of people taken ill in the Edinburgh legionnaires’ disease outbreak continues to rise.
The Scottish Government said the number of confirmed legionella cases had risen to 41 after the outbreak was first identified on 28 May. There are 47 further suspected cases. One person has died.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has served three improvement notices at two Edinburgh businesses, including a whiskey distillery and a pharmaceutical company, over a failings relating to maintenance of their cooling towers.
No confirmed link has been made between conditions at the cooling towers and the outbreak.
Chartered EHP David Gibson told EHN: ‘To me this calls into question the stoppage by the coalition government of all routine health and safety inspections. HSE HELA Circular 67/2 of 29 November 2011 requires that proactive inspections are only carried out in premises with the highest risk rating.’
Speaking to the national press, public health consultant David Harper said: ‘Local EHOs have been cut back, which means we may see more outbreaks of legionnaires’.’
The HSE was not able to confirm if the number of inspections of cooling towers or air conditioners had been cut back or not. A spokesperson said: ‘The number of inspections which may have included a legionella risk is not collated separately.
‘HSE has maintained the broad number of inspectors and other staff based in Scotland over the last five years. It is wrong to claim that numbers have been significantly reduced.’
CIEH head of policy David Kidney called on the government to think again over its plans to cut proactive inspections.
He said: ‘Some risks, as the Edinburgh legionella outbreak has shown, are too serious to be ignored but too unpredictable to be “targeted”. Local knowledge, physical inspection and risk-based assessment are all part of the regime that has been improving workplace health and safety for the past 40 years.’
A spokesperson for the City of Edinburgh Council said the authority was responsible for inspecting one cooling tower site, which has not been linked with legionella, with the rest being the responsibility of the HSE.
The inspection rate at the site has increased from every five to three years, and the last time the council visited was in 2010.
He added: ‘Other premises where water hygiene could be a potentially serious issue, such as health clubs, hotels, swimming pools and gyms, are inspected by our officers. Our levels of inspection activity also goes beyond the current UK government guidance.’
But nationally there has been a decline in inspections. Figures collated by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy show that the total number of general health and safety visits to premises made by councils fell by 15 per cent between 2010 and 2011. In Scotland visits fell by 22 per cent.
Concerns have also been raised that cash-strapped businesses are less able to effectively monitor their water systems.
Blane Judd, chief executive of the Buildings and Engineering Services Association, said water systems such as air conditioner needed to be subject to a regular programme of inspections if future deaths from legionella are to be avoided.
He added: ‘Certainly there is a pressing need for all those involved in building maintenance and management to understand where the health risks lie.
‘However, in an era of reduced staff and budgets but higher workloads there is more room for human error.’
According to the Health Protection Agency there were more than 350 cases of legionnaires’ disease in England and Wales in 2010. Thirty-eight people died of the disease.
Public health funding expected
The Department of Health (DoH) is expected to tell councils the basis on which they will be funded for their new public health functions by the end of the week.
It was announced earlier this year that local authorities would be initially allocated around £2.2bn to take on public health duties from primary care authorities, an amount that has disappointed many in the sector.
From 2013 the DoH said it would introduce a new funding formula to take into account historic local spending and a population needs assessment. It is expected this formula will soon be published, with councils learning exactly how much they will get later on in the year.
The Local Government Association (LGA) has been lobbying for a greater share of spending on public health. A paper presented to a recent meeting of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board criticised the ‘lack of engagement’ by the DoH with local government representatives over development of the formula.
Board chair David Rogers said: ‘We have considerable engagement with the Department of Health and directly with public health minister Anne Milton over an extended period.
‘But I understood that she agreed in principle that appropriate finance officers would join the Advisory Committee for Resource Allocation. We are rather disappointed that we have not made more progress on that.
‘We want to see needs-based funding as soon as possible, and I think the NHS traditionally has not worked that way.
‘The initial expectation was that local government would get a bigger proportion of the overall spend on public health. I don’t hold out high hopes that that will be the case.’
CIEH principal policy officer Ian Gray said a key part of the funding formula would be the use of the standard mortality ratio (SMR) which allows a comparison of the number of the observed deaths in a population with the number of expected deaths. A formula based on the SMR of people aged up to 75 would determine the amount of public health funding an area will get in addition to funding for mandated services.
Mr Gray said: ‘There is a risk this might introduce perverse incentives. If a local authority improves its SMR, underlying deprivation may still exist but its funding will be reduced.
‘There also needs to be more consideration of action taken to tackle underlying causes of ill-health rather than just looking at outcomes.’
Councils will also be able to apply for extra funding through a ‘health premium incentive’ based on an authority’s progress in achieving health outcomes. The precise criteria for this have yet to be decided.
Wet and warm weather driving rats into homes
Thousands of the rodents are building nests closer to homes – after being driven up to higher ground by rising water levels and flooding.
Some shocked residents in flood-hit areas are now reporting up to 600 rats settling within just 20ft of their homes – thanks to downpours and warm weather.
Phil John, a pest control expert in Hatherley, Glos., said he had seen a huge rise in the number of calls asking him to deal with the vermin.
He said: “The problem has got worse since the flooding – when we have seen the population of rats increase.
“Rats have come up from the lower ground and have not gone back.
“I have got more rat work now than a few years ago. The councils used to do more but now they have either cut back or have stopped altogether.
“Rats are never going to be that far away from anyone. I have been to homes where there have been between 400 and 600 rats.”
Experts have blamed the latest surge in rat reports to the warm and wet British summers – fearing the problem will only get worse this year.
Heat and rising water levels flush the rats out of their hovels deep underground and force them to look for nests closer to homes.
With the high birth rate, one rat can multiply into 200 individuals within a year – living just six feet away from some houses.
Pest controllers warn that the scourge is likely to get worse as warm weather spreads and developers try to find new spots to build homes.
They claim when old buildings are converted or when farmland is used for development, the rats already living on the land will imply STAY – infesting any new homes.
Mr John said: “When they start building on land like at Oakley or in Bishop’s Cleeve, in Gloucestershire, there is nowhere for the animals to go
“Instead, people are simply creating the perfect habitat for them to breed and survive.”
The exterminator claimed places such as Cheltenham, in the county, were seeing a rapid rise in rat infestations – including at Prestbury, Charlton Kings and Bishop’s Cleeve.
Barbara Exley, head of public protection for Cheltenham Borough Council, conceded the rodent population was on the rise.
She said: “The general trend is that there are more rats across the country.
“However in Cheltenham the number of requests for our service is steady, although this does fluctuate depending on the time of year.”
Firms 'exploit safety loophole'
Labour has pledged to close a legal loophole that allows companies to avoid safety fines by going into administration and then resuming business under a similar trading name.
Chuka Umunna, Labour’s shadow business secretary, told the building union UCATT’s annual conference in Scarborough that a Labour government would legislate to stop firms evading justice.
‘I give this commitment today: the next Labour government will act to prevent this abuse. It puts the lives of workers at risk. It is irresponsible. It is wrong. We will stop it,’ he said.
He criticised the government, which failed to support a 10 minute rule bill put forward by a Liverpool MP Luciana Berger.
Her bill would have given Health and Safety Executive (HSE) the power to apply for an assets freezing order to prevent a company voluntarily going into administration, following the death or serious injury of a worker.
Mr Umunna said: ‘It is wrong that this government is prepared to stand by while rogue businesses exploit loopholes in the law to evade justice when their malpractice leads to deaths at work.’
Ms Berger welcomed the pledge.
‘I was disappointed that my bill ran out of time, but I’ll continue to campaign hard for justice at work and I’m pleased that if a Lib Dem/Tory government won’t act, then the next Labour government will,’ she said.
Chris Grayling, employment minister, argued in parliament that Ms Berger’s proposal would have consequences for other areas of regulation.
‘Processes such as entering administration are provided for in existing company law, and the consequences of doing so affect other areas of regulation, not just health and safety,’ he said.
But he asked HSE officials to make contact with her to explore how the concerns underpinning her bill ‘may be most effectively addressed’.
Ms Berger is expected to met with them on the 20 June.
Steve Murphy, UCATT General Secretary, said the law had to be changed in order to ensure safe working practices in construction, an industry in which nearly 50 workers were killed last year.
‘Bereaved families also deserve justice. It is bad enough for them to lose a loved one, but for the law to allow those responsible to escape justice is a grievous insult,’ he said.
UCATT highlighted two recent cases.
- Crane driver Mark Thornton from Liverpool was killed in 2007 when his crane collapsed on a site in Wavertree. Bryn Thomas Crane Hire was fined £4,500 when the case went to court in December 2010. The judge said he was unable to impose the appropriate fine of £300,000 because the company had recently gone into administration. The directors now operate a company called Bryn Thomas Cranes Limited.
- Noel Corbin a TV dish installer from Addington, Surrey, died in 2008 when he fell from a roof in London’s Belsize Park. Employer Foxtel Ltd ceased trading a few weeks before the case went to court in August 2011. As a result, the court imposed a fine of just £1 – though the employer has resumed activities as a sole trader while still using the Foxtel name.
Meat plant found guilty of delivering over-temperature meat
The Food Standards Agency has brought a successful prosecution against an Essex slaughterhouse for deliveries of over-temperature meat. A judge found Elmkirk Limited guilty on all eight charges under the Food Hygiene (England) Regulations, fined the company £12,000 and ordered it to pay prosecution costs of nearly £26,000.
Seven of the offences concerned the delivery of meat from Elmkirk Limited to meat wholesalers based at Smithfield Market in London. Elmkirk Limited had previously had its approval to transport warm (more than 7°C) meat to premises in Smithfield withdrawn, but continued to do so. Elmkirk Limited was therefore found guilty of continuing to make these deliveries without the necessary authorisation.
The other offence concerned a delivery of over-temperature meat from Elmkirk Limited to premises in Leeds. This was a journey in excess of two hours and the meat should have been chilled and kept chilled before and during transportation.
In his summary of the case, the judge stressed that the regulations are aimed at securing a high standard of consumer protection with a risk-based approach to food safety.
More about the regulations
Under European Union food hygiene Regulation (EC) No 853/2004, immediately following post-mortem inspection by FSA officials, red meat carcasses must be chilled at the slaughterhouse to ensure a temperature throughout the meat of not more than 7°C. Unless otherwise authorised by the FSA, meat must attain this temperature before being transported and remain at the temperature during transportation.
In England, Regulation (EC) No 853/2004 is implemented by the Food Hygiene (England) Regulations.
Poor hand hygiene ‘likely cause’ of E.coli spread at nursery school
Steve Naldrett, Director at Ardan Training Consultancy Ltd, says ” We cannot stress enough, that good hand washing regimes are essential, when dealing with food poisoning micro-organisms such as E coli. This is illustrated by the following article.”
An inadequate standard of hand hygiene is the most likely reason for the spread of E. coli at a nursery in Aberdeenshire, say health experts.
Three babies were taken to the hospital in Aberdeen following the outbreak at Rose Lodge Nursery in Aboyne last month.
In total, there were seven confirmed cases of the illness stemming from the Deeside nursery.
The outbreak prompted an investigation by the NHS Grampian Health Protection Team and Aberdeenshire Council Environmental Health Department which found that the infection was most likely introduced into the nursery by a child and spread by “staff having failed to maintain an adequate standard of hand hygiene”.
A spokesman for the NHS said: “The investigation indicates this child did not have any diarrhoeal symptoms while in the nursery, but may have been excreting E.coli O157 bacteria in its faeces for a number of days, before developing symptoms. The child became obviously unwell at home and did not attend the nursery again until fully recovered.
“The investigation has shown that the E.coli O157 bacteria infecting this child was transmitted to three children and two adults attending the baby room within the nursery.
“The investigation team has concluded that the most probable transmission route for the infection was through nursery staff having failed to maintain an adequate standard of hand hygiene in the baby room.”
Serious fire-safety breaches cost Asda
National food retailer Asda Stores Limited has been ordered to pay more than £55,000 in fines and costs for committing serious fire-safety breaches at a store in Berkshire.
Appearing at Reading Crown Court on 6 June, the firm pleaded guilty to two charges brought under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The case had received an earlier hearing in February at Reading Magistrates’ Court, but was referred to the Crown Court, where a number of further charges were brought into account.
Royal Berkshire Fire Authority (RBFA) brought the charges following an inspection of Asda’s store in Cippenham, near Slough, by fire-safety officers on 24 June 2010. The court heard that the breaches presented a serious and life-threatening risk, not only to the staff who worked in the store but also to customers and other members of the public.
Counsel for the prosecution, William Clegg QC, told the court that the inspection, which was carried out following a complaint, identified serious breaches to fire-safety regulations, including:
- two fire-exit doors chained and locked shut;
- obstruction of fire-escape routes;
- combustible items obstructing fire-exit doors and escape routes; and
- fire-exit doors wedged open.
The court also heard that the company had previously been served with a caution in July 2000 for two contraventions relating to other fire-safety regulations.
Offering mitigation, Matthew Turner QC, stated that the company treated fire-safety regulations very seriously and set out the company’s policies and procedures that it had in place to support this. He also highlighted that the company cooperated fully with the Fire Authority, and pleaded guilty to the offences at an earlier hearing.
Summing up, Judge Grainger recognised Asda Stores’ guilty plea and mitigation, but underlined that the breaches were very serious. He fined the company £20,000 for each offence, with full costs totalling £15,647 awarded to the Fire Authority.
David Walden, the Authority’s fire-safety legal support manager, said: “This was a clear case of a major retailing company failing to comply with fire-safety regulations and, by doing so, placing people at serious risk. It also provides further evidence that some businesses continue to treat compliance with fire-safety legislation as an option – it is not.
“Staff and customers are entitled to feel safe when working at, or visiting, a supermarket, or any other business. We will continue with our efforts to ensure that any business owner, or manager who refuses to take these obligations seriously will be brought before the courts.”
Make every week Food Safety Week
Take a look at some advice on date marks on food.
Pork should be cooked thoroughly
How do we get away from celebrity chefs and ‘foodies’ extolling the virtues of unsafe food hygiene practices? Yesterday’s Metro had a whole page dedicated to pork, with the frustrating advice from Spanish chefs that ‘fresh pork is best not cooked through’. With all the work we are doing to try to improve food hygiene in businesses, and at home, to reduce food poisoning, this type of advice is unhelpful and potentially dangerous.
The fact is that, it doesn’t matter how ‘fresh’ it is, pork is best served thoroughly cooked – unless you want to run the risk of contracting hepatitis E or toxoplasmosis.
Although hepatitis E is a relatively uncommon disease in the UK in rare cases people have died after contracting the disease. In recent years we have seen infection rates increase in pigs and last thing we want would be for this increase to be transferred to the human population.
As for the parasitic disease toxoplasmosis, although it is more commonly associated with contact with contaminated cat faeces, the disease can also be transmitted through undercooked pork and can cause severe complications during pregnancy.
So a reminder of our advice:
When cooking burgers, sausages, chicken and pork, cut into the middle to check that the meat is no longer pink, that any juices run clear and it’s steaming hot.
It’s safe to serve steak and other whole cuts of beef and lamb rare as long as they have been properly cooked on the outside to kill any bacteria on the surface of the meat.
While this advice might not be, to some, gastronomic perfection, surely it’s preferable to a nasty bout of food poisoning, or even worse.
(You may also be interested in the article the Metro published last year recommending that pork is cooked thoroughly!)
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