A union, Unison, has raised fears that food hygiene inspectors will be overwhelmed with demands to carry out inspections of cafes and restaurants. The news comes ahead of the passing of a new law in Wales forcing food outlets to openly display their food hygiene rating on their premises. Unison has asserted that inspectors were already under heavy pressure, even though businesses may fear loss of trade if they have to wait for re-inspection to improve their poor scores.
From November this year, the new law aims to further develop a voluntary scheme, in which restaurants, takeaways and supermarkets in Wales openly display their food hygiene ratings, from the worst at 0 to the best at 5. On the other hand, Unison said the 137 food inspectors employed by Wales’ 22 councils were under pressure with their current workload, even without the law. The union is afraid that food inspectors will struggle to keep up with demand from those businesses that are given low scores.
The new law clearly states that a business has the right to a re-inspection within three months of making the initial request, and most councils currently operate a six-month window. The head of local government for Unison in Wales, Dominic MacAskill, said the union welcomed the new legislation as an opportunity to promote the work of environmental health officers to the wider society. Unison, however, has expressed its fears that the demand by food establishments to have their score-on-the-door reviewed again would detract from non-statutory functions that were still quite important to be adhered to.
He claimed that one example of “proactive preventative measures” that might potentially suffer was the responsibility of environmental health officers to inspect school toilets following the recent e-coli outbreaks, that can be described as more serious health hazards than a simple hygiene rating at the local takeaway.
He explained: “I think what we’re worried about is that it’s going to be robbing Peter to pay Paul. Things such as health promotion are not statutory requirements, so they’re the thing that may give in order to meet the statutory requirements of this new bill. The concern is it is not just the 0-1s that are going to apply for reviews, it’s going to be the 3s and 4s that want to be 5s, so there’s going to be a significant increase in demand for this service.” Government officials are now analysing the responses and a final report will be published in due course.