E.coli O157 & Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) have concerns over UK food safety being at risk, due to lack of staff.

1st February 2024

A recent news article in the Environmental Health News indicates the concerns the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) have over UK food safety being at risk, due to lack of staff.

Food safety allocated posts supported by local authorities in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland have decreased by almost 14% since 2011/12, and just over 25% in Scotland compared to 2016/17. Additionally, food standards officer allocated posts dropped 45.1% between 2011/12 and 2021/22 in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

A 2020 survey revealed trading standards officer staffing levels had also dropped between 30 and 50% between 2008/09 and 2018/19. Over half of UK local authorities believe they lack adequate resources to deliver food controls, whilst the ageing workforce was a threat to future professional capacity.

Whilst the Food Standards Agency (FSA) may have concerns over this issue, but have no control over the funding allocated for local authorities to undertake this work, one would have thought they could have raised this issue with the Government more strongly and in a more public manner, as we all require to be safe whatever our dietary requirements are.

The FSA claim to be an Independent Government Department, set up in 2000 after the BSE crisis. However, their senior appointments, such as Board members, are appointed by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) who are the Government Ministers the FSA often report to.

The FSA also inform the Department of the Environment and Rural Affairs Minster(s) and officials as required.

The FSA has a lack of vets and meat hygiene inspectors to undertake work in slaughterhouses for which they receive Government funding in order to allow this work to be undertaken by themselves and a contractor.

The shortages of staff in relation to food safety are not new as these problems have been know about for several years.

The FSA, I believe, instead of trying to improve on the lack of suitably qualified and trained staff, appear to be prepared to let standards drop rather than address these issues strongly with the Government or bring these issues to the public’s attention.

This I believe, is borne out by the FSA policies in relation to the delivery model for the Food Law Code of Practice, the Delivery Model for the FSA Official Controls in the Meat Sector, the FSA Official Controls for Registered Dairy Establishments and “Developing a modernised food hygiene delivery model.

These are all about cutting physical inspections, seeking to reduce the training and the skills knowledge and experience required to undertake this work by independent Environmental Health Offices etc. whilst allowing parties with a vested financial interest such as Red Tractor and the large supermarket chains to mark their own work in relation to food safety, which was why the FSA was formed originally as the food industry could not be trusted to do so itself.

In relation to public health, foodborne illness costs our economy £9.1 Billion pounds a year based on 2018 prices. At this time, it was estimated 2.4 million people who suffered from Foodborne Disease (FBD) in the UK; approximately 16,300 received hospital treatment with over 180 reported deaths.

The sufferers pay the vast majority of the costs as clearly indicated in the link below in “The Burden of Foodborne Disease in the UK 2018” where it states on page xi. 

"Individuals and carers are the group bearing the largest cost of FBD"

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