Significant backlog in food hygiene inspections in Bristol ‘a serious risk to public health’, says council report

Bristol City Council is employing contractor environmental health officers to carry out extra inspections across the city
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About 1,000 cafes, restaurants, shops and other Bristol premises have not had a food safety inspection since opening because of a massive backlog from the pandemic, health chiefs heard.

As many as 3,000 businesses in total are overdue a visit, and about one third of those have never been inspected. The delays have been declared a “serious risk to public health”.

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Bristol City Council has been given more funding to take on extra environmental health officers temporarily and identify unrated food outlets as a priority and says a recovery plan is in place to clear at least half of the logjam by the end of the year.

Health and wellbeing board members heard the situation was caused by officers being redirected to Covid-19 enforcement duties and visits proving impossible for long periods over the last two years because of national restrictions on the hospitality industry.

As many as 3,000 businesses are due a visit from hygiene inspectorsAs many as 3,000 businesses are due a visit from hygiene inspectors
As many as 3,000 businesses are due a visit from hygiene inspectors

Bristol’s health protection annual report, presented to the board meeting at City Hall, said the council had a yearly target of completing 80 per cent of inspections for the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which oversees the system of hygiene ratings from zero to five stars.

The report said: “There is an annual programme of inspections and due to the pandemic and restrictions on premises operating we were unable to carry out all the statutory food inspections as would normally have been planned for 2020-21.

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“At the end of 2019-20 we had achieved approximately 79 per cent of the required inspections/interventions. This was impacted in March 2020 due to the start of Covid-19.

“During 2020-21 we followed FSA guidance and priority planning to focus on highest risk inspections, with many businesses having to close due to national restrictions. This severely impacted on our ability to visit and for them to operate.

“In 2020-21 officers were diverted to enforcement activities relating to Covid-19. This resulted in a backlog of inspections of approximately 3,000, including over 1,000 unrated/uninspected businesses.

“As a result, we have secured additional funding to employ contractor environmental health officers.

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“There has been a very high national demand and we envisage they will complete 1,500 to 2,000 inspections in 2021-22.

“We have also secured some limited funding from the FSA to identify unrated inspections and undertake a survey to enable us to identify premises still operating and for targeting for an inspection/intervention.

“This remains a serious risk to public health as the backlog is significant.”

City council senior public health specialist Brianna O’Malley told the meeting on Thursday, February 24: “There is a significant backlog because of directed enforcement activities towards Covid-19 and a lot of businesses being closed throughout the pandemic.

“There is a recovery plan in place to meet at least half of these inspections by the end of 2022.”

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