chris elliott quote web

Some people relax by reading the newspaper or their smartphone. I indulge myself with a good look at Food Standards Agency Board papers. Quite often they will put me (and others) to sleep, but not on this occasion.

In this week’s papers (as reported by The Grocer last week) there is a stark warning about the state of food safety nationally. I paraphrase: “The overall position is one of growing concern …. the number of food businesses and customer complaints continue to rise …. many local authorities are not able to deliver a food service as set out in statutory Food Law Code of Practice and face further significant budget reductions over the next few years.”

So good for the Food Standards Agency for making these concerns public. Their statement mirrors the thoughts and fears of myself and other observers about our national food safety status. My own warning to the government came in my 2014 report, which warned of local services being cut to the bone.

We are now close to the 20th anniversary of the event which lead to the Pennington enquiry. For those of you who don’t recall what happened, some very poor practice in a butcher’s shop in Scotland led to nearly 500 cases of serious food poisoning and 18 deaths, caused by a particularly virulent form of e.coli.

After a wonderful and important career Hugh Pennington retired some years ago. I have a growing fear that we may need him again in the not too distant future.

With fewer and fewer inspections of food businesses, I have little doubt that good practice in a small number of these businesses will markedly decline and may lead to catastrophic consequences.

Maybe we need the services of a good health economist. He or she could undertake a risk benefit analysis of the savings the Government is making in the cuts to local authorities against the potential impact of a couple of horrendous outbreaks of foodborne illness.

Perhaps the Secretary of State for Health has one of these in this department and might offer their services?

Then again, probably not.

Professor Chris Elliott is director of the Institute of Food Safety at Queen’s University, Belfast