The Food Standards Agency is set to tackle hygiene standards in catering after latest official statistics on the enforcement of food safety laws revealed that half of restaurants and catering premises inspected broke some rules.

Some 235,969 restaurants and catering establishments were inspected last year, of which 118,555 had broken some food safety rules. Restaurants and caterers are by far the largest sector in the food industry, employing about two million people.

The statistics also reveal that over 12,000 more inspections were carried out by local authorities in 2000 compared with 1999, although there has been a drop of 30% in the numbers or prosecutions taken, down from 1087 in 1999 to 753 in 2000.

The data also shows that there were 175,000 samples taken by local authorities - 15,000 fewer than the year before. Sampling is a significant part of food law enforcement and gives important surveillance information on the current chemical, microbiological and compositional status of food.

Publishing the data, Chairman of the Food Standards Agency, Sir John Krebs said:

" We want consumers to be able to enjoy their food safely. When they go out to eat a meal they should take away a good experience and not a nasty bug. Although some breaches may be minor it does point to generally low standards. It is simply not acceptable. We know that many caterers have very high standards but we want ensure that standards are raised across the industry. We will be working with industry to address this as part of a wide-ranging campaign to improve food hygiene standards.

" Local authorities play a pivotal role in checking that the rules are being followed. They have extensive powers to inspect premises, take samples and prosecute where necessary to make sure they are up to scratch.

" Consumers also have an important role to play in rejecting low standards of hygiene. We want to encourage consumers to report poor standards as well as cases of food poisoning to their council's environmental health office. "

The FSA Annual Consumer Survey published this year reported that two-thirds of the population occasionally or regularly eat out and that standards of hygiene are a matter of concern for half of those interviewed. Figures suggest that up to 4.5 million people suffer from food poisoning annually.

NOTES TO EDITORS

  1. The Food Standards Agency is responsible for collating quarterly returns and submitting them annually to the European Commission from all UK food authorities on specified food enforcement activity.
  2. Enforcement of food law is carried out by local authority Environmental Health Officers and Trading Standards Officers.
  3. There were 603,297 registered food premises in the UK in 2000 - a reduction of 1% on 1999 figure of 612,203.
  4. The total number of inspections by local authorities increased by about 2% from 532,452 in 1999 to 544,921.
  5. A major report on key aspects of food enforcement in the UK will be presented to the Agency Board and published in September.
  6. The statistics for 1999 and 2000, including information on enforcement at a local level, can be found on the Agency's website at: www.foodstandards.gov.uk/lalist/authindex.htm