Assurance poses 'no threat to EHOs'

Ref: http://www.ehn-online.com/news/

A single food safety assurance scheme that everyone can join in with was called for by Lisa Ackerley, visiting professor of environmental health at the University of Salford, at the CIEH safe food conference.

Proposing a radically simplified national scheme, she said: ‘Businesses don’t want someone going in and waving a great big stick and then someone else going in and doing a “good cop bad cop” thing, so the visit they get, whether it’s from a local authority or a private sector auditor, needs to help them to get the place where they need to be.’

She said that her proposed not-for-profit scheme, covering the catering sector only, would involve a centrally-held database. Local authorities would be able to view relevant parts of the database, but, because it was not held in the public domain, it would not be subject to freedom of information requests: ‘Businesses do not want all of this data, which has previously been private, being requested by the Daily Mail.’

The central body holding the database would work with stakeholders to set standards and competencies for auditors, including training requirements. But she stressed: ‘We don’t want to put too many barriers up or to make this too expensive.’ It would not be compulsory for auditors to join the scheme.

She reassured her audience: ‘I want to reassure you that this is absolutely not about stealing EHOs jobs.’ Under the new system, she said, local authorities would still be responsible for enforcement activity, including awarding food hygiene ratings and re-ratings. But, in some cases, it would be informed by data from external auditors.

She said: ‘Local authorities would be doing exactly as they were before, but they would have access to a lot more information from more sources and they would be able to consider it as part of the whole picture in relation to food businesses.

’The new paid-for service would be based on the British Hospitality Association’s Catering Guide, with reference to Annex 5 Food Standard’s Agency’s food law code of practice. She argued that it would simply regularise what is already happening in the marketplace, with businesses receiving advice, guidance and coaching from many bodies but that it would give added value and public reassurance to the businesses signing up.

Small businesses that do not currently receive many inspections from EHOs would benefit.

Giving the example of Salsa as an effective existing accreditation scheme, she said: ‘we want to make sure that the scheme is not difficult or expensive for anyone to join, that it would have transparent governance and that it would enjoy the trust of consumers and local authorities.’

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