Food safety crackdowns continue around the globe

Posted by Isobel Drake on 11th August 2008

The UK’s new transparent food safety grading system is making a splash, but there have been concerns that it may be too wide-reaching in its application.

The Food Standards Agency is consulting on the SOTDs (Scores On The Doors) system to attempt to standardise the many different hygiene scoring systems that currently operate throughout the UK. The schemes originated following the Freedom of Information Act and aim to give customers more information about the hygiene of the premises that they are purchasing food from, as well as providing an incentive to retailers to improve their performance. Once a business has been scored they are presented with a certificate containing this score and encouraged to display it, and scores are also placed online. It is likely that the Food Standards Agency will go with a four tier, “three star grades and a fail” grading system.

The system is designed to improve transparency for consumers and promote greater concern for food safety amongst food retailers, and works in a similar way to the ‘name and shame’ strategy witnessed in NSW.

The Association of Convenience Stores has responded to the consultation on Scores on the Doors (SOTDs) by calling for an exemption for shops with no open food handling, and for an easy to understand ‘fail’ or ‘improvement required’ grading system. “ACS sees only risks and no opportunities for convenience stores from Scores on the Doors,” ACS Chief Executive, James Lowman, said. “Convenience stores are low risk businesses, and we strongly believe that consumers will not use the rating system to make choices about where to shop. It is a waste of local authority resources to extend the scheme to low risk premises. Given the strong potential for confusion about what a score relates to, premises with low scores could be unfairly judged by the public who may mistakenly believe that the store is in some way unsafe, even though the store is fully compliant with food hygiene law”.

“We support the Foods Standards Agency taking action to harmonise the various SOTDs schemes that have been operating across the country. This is important because right now there are numerous different schemes operating around the country, run by individual local authorities, many of which include convenience stores. This is a burden on businesses and is highly confusing for authorities, businesses and consumers alike,” Mr Lowman concluded.

Food safety crackdowns have been witnessed globally in the past year, with changes seen in the UK, Australia and China. The US is also set to act in the wake of the salmonella outbreak a couple of months ago and subsequent difficulty in discovering the source of the outbreak. Changes are anticipated to ensure the traceability of food is improved.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), upon releasing information on food safety at US food retailers, has called for a ‘scores on the doors’ approach from the US Government. The National Restaurant Association has disputed the need for such legislation due to their improved food safety training programs and the pending introduction of a national food safety standard. “Food safety is non-negotiable and the number-one priority for the restaurant-and-foodservice industry,” NRA Vice President for Health & Safety Regulatory Affairs, Dr. Donna Garren, said. “As for any public postings of health inspections, results must be accurate, objective, timely, comparable to previous inspections, easy to understand for laypersons, and indicative of food safety only. Food safety violations that have been corrected by the foodservice establishment should be acknowledged immediately to let the public know there is no continuing problem.”