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The BBC's Nicola Carslaw
"Safety league tables could be introduced"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 19 July, 2000, 22:56 GMT 23:56 UK
Concern over food safety record
Greasy spoon meal
The agency says food outlets are breaking rules too often
The Food Standards Agency is calling for a tougher inspection system after an official report showed almost half of the UK's 500,000 food outlets broke health and safety rules last year.

The watchdog says breaches of safety and hygiene rules are on the increase, and the situation is unacceptable.

Breaches uncovered run from dirty floors and filthy work surfaces to cockroaches in food preparation areas.

The agency will meet to discuss the report on Thursday and is expected to recommend tough action, possibly including the introduction of food safety league tables for local authorities.

The FSA was set up by the government earlier this year to oversee the UK's food safety policy and practice.

Tough action

One of its aims is to restore consumer confidence in the food industry following the BSE scandal, the deadly outbreak of e-coli food poisoning in Lanarkshire, Scotland, in 1996 and the latest GM food scares.

FSA chairman Sir John Krebs said consumers expected food bought from restaurants and shops to be safe.

"This study shows that the rules are being broken too many times by the food industry and that we must be sure that local authorities have in place effective advice, inspection and enforcement systems," he said.

"It is not acceptable for the infringements to continue at these levels, nor is it acceptable for consumers not to know how effectively they are being protected."

Consumer groups hope it will ensure that manufacturers, caterers and retailers which do not put safety first are forced to get out of the kitchen.

Local responsibility

But the industry itself says many small catering businesses are in need of government support.

Local authorities have responsibility for enforcing food health and hygiene rules.

The FSA is concerned that infringements have increased over the last three years, but that the number of actual inspections has decreased dramatically.

It believes food outlets are breaking the rules too frequently and that tough, new national enforcement measures are needed to bring about change.

In Scotland the number of inspections rose in the wake of the 1996 e-coli outbreak.

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