Government fears that the Olympics will be hit by an E.coli outbreak have been used as evidence to help bring in sweeping new powers for local authorities over all food retailers.
Under proposals approved by the FSA, environmental health officers will be given the go-ahead to close food outlets, including supermarket meat counters, if they suspect a food hygiene issue.
The FSA has passed the plans to parliament and expects them to be law by April, in time to prevent an outbreak of diseases such as E.coli during the Games. The remedial action notices (RANs) will extend local authority powers previously reserved for meat plants and slaughterhouses.
The FSA said it had received support from consumer groups in its consultation, which ran at the height of fears over the E.coli outbreak in Germany earlier this year, but date back to the outcry over a fatal case in Wales in 2005.
“This will provide a ‘bedding in’ period for industry and enforcement authorities before the Olympic Games, where we believe RANs will provide an important tool for tackling non-compliances in the expected surge of temporary and mobile catering enterprises,” said the FSA.
In a concession to fears raised by the food industry in the consultation, the FSA has said businesses will be able to claim compensation if they successfully appeal against a RAN.
However, the move was still slammed as draconian by the BRC, which said it would leave supermarkets at the mercy of rogue decisions by environmental health officers in powers that should have been more targeted at small food outlets and suppliers without the strict regimes operated by the major retailers.
The BRC has estimated a decision to close a supermarket meat counter could cost the average store £50,000 a week.
“This move is hugely disproportionate,” said BRC director general Stephen Robertson. “A decision to close a supermarket deli would cause an outrageous cost. Shops could easily lose a whole week’s trade.”