Hygiene warnings to over 1,000 businesses in Northumberland

Over 1,000 businesses in Northumberland were subject to food hygiene action last yearOver 1,000 businesses in Northumberland were subject to food hygiene action last year
Over 1,000 businesses in Northumberland were subject to food hygiene action last year
Restaurants, takeaways and pubs in Northumberland were slapped with written warnings on food hygiene issues over 1,000 times last year, new figures reveal.

Figures from health watchdogs the Food Standards Agency (FSA) show that 1,020 informal written warnings were handed out to food businesses in the area during 2019-20.

The figures show that FSA inspectors took formal enforcement action against traders on nine occasions – and that this resulted in the voluntary closures of three businesses and hygiene improvement notices being served on six others.

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Restaurants, pubs and caterers make up the majority of businesses inspected, but any establishment which handles unpacked food including manufacturers can be subject to a visit.

If a business is not meeting requirements the agency can take a range of actions, from informal steps such as advice and guidance or a written warning, to closure or even prosecution in the most serious cases.

Any potential breach of food hygiene regulations can prompt an informal warning, including problems with cleanliness, record keeping and separation of cooked and raw foods.

Te figures show that, nationally, 151,300 written warnings were handed out last year – with 4,800 formal enforcement actions undertaken.

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While the latest figures only cover a small period of the Covid-19 pandemic, the FSA said the crisis created "unprecedented challenges for local authorities in delivering their statutory food functions”.

At one point during the first national lockdown period, councils were advised to postpone some planned inspections.

Maria Jennings, director of regulatory compliance at the FSA, said: “Whilst the latest figures are not dissimilar to those from in 2018-19, we acknowledge that Covid-19 has clearly created significant pressures on local authorities since the end of March.

"We’ll be considering the impact the pandemic has had on their resources and on delivering their statutory responsibilities in relation to food at the FSA Board’s business committee meeting.

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A planned radical overhaul of the way food businesses are regulated has also been affected by the pandemic, the agency said.

A pilot study to help establish new policies and standards was due to begin this year, but this has been postponed until 2021.