Walsall Council’s annual Food Law Enforcement Service plan was put before Cabinet for consideration last night (October 24). The comprehensive one year plan explains the role of the borough’s food enforcement service and evidences how statutory food hygiene standards are maintained, or improved and where they are robustly enforced to protect the public. If businesses fall below the required standard this can be done with closure orders or high profile prosecutions.
On the night, Councillor Garry Perry, Portfolio Holder for Public Protection highlighted key findings from the report and reiterated that public safety is paramount therefore any enforcement action will always prioritise higher risk premises. He emphasised that while levels of compliance were rising, there were still challenges ahead. To evidence this he then presented a series of hard hitting images taken from local food premises. Posters of the ‘Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ shared from Environmental Health archives were shown to the assembled Cabinet, council officers and public gallery. Examples of filthy kitchens and sinks, rank floors and cooking utensils and photographic evidence of unsanitary storage were juxtaposed with images of spotless kitchens, work surfaces and gleaming public eating areas (all awarded top hygiene ratings of 5). This brought home the disparity in business interpretations of Food Hygiene compliance. Cabinet also heard how the ‘ugly’ – the very worst standards have led to prison sentences for those owners who have wilfully chosen to ignore council advice, interventions and court orders.
Councillor Garry Perry said: “This year’s report proves that the Council will and has taken robust action when businesses wilfully disregard our orders. It’s only right and proper that professional credit goes to the environmental health team who are tenacious in documenting the evidence and bringing about these prosecutions.
“We will always work with those business who may not be fully aware of the standard expected of them and have a commitment to improve. Whilst wilful cases of non -compliance are rare, I have seen first-hand the damage that irresponsible owners can wreak on human health through appalling food hygiene.
“My own sister became badly ill after ordering a phone takeaway from a local chicken restaurant. The very evening that she ordered her meal, eight other people were also affected after eating contaminated food from the same place. One of these people very nearly died and was treated in intensive care for renal failure. Dangerous bacterium that gets into takeaway food can lead to life threatening illnesses. Businesses must understand that food hygiene laws are there for a reason – to protect the public.”
Samples and swab evidence were removed from the food business and the Lab results proved that the work surfaces and kitchen equipment was contaminated with salmonella bacteria. The business was prosecuted and its owner is currently awaiting a prison sentence. Details of how Environmental Health investigated this case and others are recorded in the report.
Councillor Perry added: “I want the public of Walsall to be able to make informed choices about where they spend their hard earned money and know that the food they choose to eat, is completely safe, so please always check the Food Hygiene Rating System before eating somewhere. Currently, there is no legal requirement to display these ratings and my view is that nationally, this law needs to change so food businesses are forced to show their ratings. I will lobby my MP to make this happen.”
The latest Cabinet report, as well as highlighting a strong approach to food hygiene regulation, closures and evidence based enforcement action – also showcases the pro-active educational work going on in the borough. The council’s Health Switch programme which is a delivered by Environmental Health and commissioned by Public Health Walsall works closely with fast food outlets in Walsall to help them make small changes which make business sense – and at the same time promote healthier eating choices for their customers. This in turn promotes cultural change within the fast food industry and for its consumers. The longer term aim is to reduce obesity levels in the borough. The Health Switch scheme works on a descending Gold, Silver and Bronze awards system.