Speaking at the Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum event last month, ‘Next steps for food regulation in the UK’, in London, Hancock said: “Previously, no one could say confidently how many food and feed establishments were covered by the regulatory system, never mind what was happening with them ... That’s because the information collected by individual local authorities was inconsistent, used different systems, referenced locations and businesses in a myriad of ways, and was not regularly cleansed.
“Those challenges have been overcome. We have reconciled records of an apparent 1.64m food and feed business locations to confirm the existence of over 550,000 active, located business premises, and that number is still going up slowly as more niche datasets are added.
“It’s hard to overestimate how important this step is. We can interrogate it by geography, business type, food or feed activity, business name, Food Hygiene Rating Scheme, and who is delivering controls. This single unified view is essential to progressing our plans to use artificial intelligence and algorithms to target genuinely risky food and feed businesses, and food and feed products.”
The system would also support the creation of a balanced scorecard approach to tracking local authority inspection performance, said Hancock.
“It covers how they meet their inspection obligations, levels of business compliance, number of qualified personnel, and numbers of unrated businesses. We are using this to get early signs of stress in local authorities meeting their legal obligations, and intervene at chief executive and leader level to get things back on track.”
Hancock stressed continued concerns about the lack of adequately trained Trading Standards officers and environmental health officers. She said the FSA was updating the competency framework and developing a training manual for them, but more cash had to be invested in growing staff numbers.