The county council has issued strong assurances that food-safety inspections are up to scratch following criticisms from the Conservatives.
An audit by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in October 2012 found issues with Northumberland County Council’s statutory duty to monitor food safety.
The key findings included the fact that 600 lower-risk/compliant businesses were waiting for an assessment and, in addition, more than 700 registered food businesses had received no contact.
This month’s meeting of one of the council’s scrutiny committees received an update on the council’s response, which has been deemed ‘wholly inadequate’, showing ‘that Northumberland County Council is prepared to take chances with the public health of both our residents and visitors to our county’, by Peter Jackson, leader of Northumberland Conservatives.
But leader of the council, Labour’s Grant Davey, has branded the comments as ‘scare-mongering’ amid fears that county-wide trade and businesses could be affected and has referred the comments on to the council’s chief executive to investigate if any breach of conduct has occurred.
And a statement from the county council said that it wants ‘to reassure the public that they can be completely confident in the inspection regime across the county’.
It went on to explain that it has worked hard to address areas of concern raised in the FSA report in December 2012 and had already begun to take action following the audit.
“In addition to developing a comprehensive audit action plan, the detail of which has been agreed by the FSA and the majority of actions now implemented, the public protection service continues to proactively develop service improvements so residents can be confident about food safety in Northumberland.
“Since the creation of the commercial food team in 2011, there are currently nine trained and qualified people working in food hygiene, which is an overall increase of two since 2011.
“Overall, we have a very good standard of food businesses within Northumberland, with 94 per cent of those businesses that supply food direct to the consumer achieving a three, four or five-star rating under the national Food Hygiene Rating Scheme.
“This area of work continues to be a high priority for the council. We are confident that we will be able to deliver the inspection programme and associated activities as set out within the Food and Feed Safety and Standards service plan for 2013/14.”