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27 February 2012
Owners of dodgy late-night takeaways and restaurant kitchens responsible for food poisoning outbreaks will be able to stop environmental health officers carrying out on-the-spot hygiene checks under new legislation.
Councils are warning that new curbs on access to commercial premises would put public safety at risk because it would limit their ability to stop businesses selling unsafe food.
The Local Government Association, which represents more than 350 councils in England and Wales, is urging Government to overturn proposals which would mean environmental health and trading standards officers have to seek a warrant through the courts to carry out inspections, unless given permission to enter by the business owner.
The ban was proposed and passed by the House of Lords, and could be introduced later this year under the Protection of Freedoms Bill if approved by the House of Commons.
If passed it would mean an end to on-the-spot-inspections and delays of hours or even days before hygiene experts could inspect and if necessary close down businesses where food safety concerns have been reported
The rules would also curb trading standards operations, safety checks and pollution control inspections.
Councillor Mehboob Khan, Chairman of the LGA's Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said:
"People take great comfort in the fact that councils are working on their behalf to make sure the food they buy from shops, restaurants and takeaways is properly prepared and safe to eat.
"It is vital that when complaints about food poisoning, rat infestations or other safety concerns are made, environmental health teams can investigate and tackle the problem immediately. Putting obstacles in the way of protecting public safety would be ludicrous, unnecessary and a significant threat to people's health.
"These new curbs could mean a dirty, unhygienic takeaway serving dodgy chicken might inflict food poisoning on hundreds more customers while inspectors spend hours or even days waiting for permission to enter.
"Existing legislation already safeguards to ensure powers of entry are not inappropriately used. We are not talking about entering people's homes here, but monitoring the standard of businesses across the country which collectively serve food to millions of people.
"Government must not allow this crazy clampdown on protecting public safety to pass into law."
In 2010/11 in the UK 557,262 food safety inspections were carried out by local authorities. Following inspections:
495 premises were prosecuted for food safety offences
915 premises closed voluntarily
176,096 premises were given written warnings.
(Figures – Food Standards Agency, November 2011)