A potential "food poisoning time bomb" is being created by businesses ­cutting back on safety and hygiene training, according to a new survey.

Half of food safety trainers believe businesses they work with spanning the entire industry are reducing food safety training.

And 70% of those said "cost-cutting" was driving the move, according to a survey of 5,000 food safety trainers and training ­centres by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH).

"If this trend continues public health could be put at risk potentially triggering a food poisoning time bomb," said David Kidney, CIEH head of policy.

"The economic downturn has meant many businesses have had to rein in spending, which is understandable, but quality training needs to be seen as an investment. In extreme cases failure to comply with food safety legislation can even result in a prison sentence and/or ­being prohibited from ­running a food business in future."

He blamed the declining standards on a proliferation of "cheap online food safety training solutions".

However, the Food and Drink Federation said its members were not letting their standards slip.

"We have seen no evidence to suggest responsible food manufacturing businesses are scaling back their investment in training for their staff, even during the recession," said Barbara Gallani, FDF director food safety and science. "Food safety is our industry's number one priority."