The Chilled Food Association (CFA) is working with other stakeholder groups to promote stronger levels of hygiene enforcement among suppliers of ready-to-eat food products.
CFA secretary general Kaarin Goodburn said standards for many such suppliers, which included many smaller meat processors, could differ wildly.
The Food Standards Agency’s (FSA’s) Scores on the Doors (SOTD) hygiene rating system was introduced a year ago to improve the standards of foodservice businesses. However SOTD schemes vary across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Goodburn said once the schemes had been aligned nationally, they could be used as a reliable basis for determining a common standard.
But she said: “Direct enforcement is a hot potato. Some of these people don’t even have a hot water basin on their premises. Ready-to-eat food is the highest risk because there is no intermediate step between preparation and the consumer.”
The lack of third-party accreditation for those working in the field was a major concern, she said. “From that you can work out when you need to shut a business down and a criteria for determining what are safe ready-to-eat food manufacturers. There has to be a barrier to starting up a high risk food business.”
Environmental health officers also needed sufficient powers to shut businesses down if they failed to conform to agreed standards, said Goodburn. Certain elements should be mandatory for the operation of these businesses, she said. They are: handwashing facilities on every premises; hygienic and functioning refrigeration; implemented and functioning hygiene schedules and the ability to demonstrate that all staff, including the business owner, had received hygiene training.
Goodburn is in talks with enforcement body the Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services (Lacors), the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and the FSA to improve the situation.