Trade union Unite has criticised the Department of Health for failing to invest sufficiently in food safety inspections.
After health secretary Jeremy Hunt ordered a fresh round of Food Standards Agency (FSA) inspections on two poultry producers, the union said that while it welcomed the move, standards have been steadily slipping since funding for hygiene inspections began to decline.
National officer for the food sector at the union Julia Long said that food processing is one of the UK’s quickest-growing industries and remains a major employer. As a result, the inspection system needs to reflect the importance of confidence in the food processing sector and protecting the safety of the public.
“We are glad that Jeremy Hunt has woken up to the importance of food inspection, but he is a bit late to this party,” she added. “Where was he when we were fighting to stop cuts to the service?”
Mr Hunt has called on the FSA to conduct a full safety audit of facilities at two plants operated by the 2 Sisters Food Group in Scunthorpe and Llangefni after evidence uncovered by reporters from the Guardian pointed towards a number of serious food hygiene failings, specifically regarding the processing of chicken. Another producer, Faccenda, was also implicated.
Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer have all launched individual internal investigations on the back of the reports.
A Department of Health spokesperson told FoodManufacture.co.uk that the FSA had reviewed the Guardian’s evidence and did not consider there to be any threats to public health. But the minister ordered the inspections to allay public concern, they added.
Unite says that a decline in the number of inspections has coincided with falling food standards. Indeed, the government needs to do more to make sure that food is safe to eat and the public remain confident.
“At the moment, thanks to the running down of the service, a business can look forward to an inspection only once in a blue moon,” Ms Long added.
"If the government is serious about standards across this industry it must beef up our inspection services, and stop deriding health and safety protections as needless red tape. They are central to public and workforce welfare."