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Which? Report Reveals UK Food Hygiene Postcode Lottery

By Principal Lawyer, Occupiers and Public Liability

A report by consumer group Which? has found that poor kitchen hygiene standards could cause food poisoning in half of schools, hospitals and restaurants across parts of the UK.

After analysing data submitted to the Food Standards Agency by 398 local authorities, the group created a food hygiene map of Britain that revealed a shocking postcode lottery of contrasting food hygiene standards.

Researchers concluded that general cleanliness in some restaurants was so appalling that diners “may as well toss a coin before deciding which restaurant to trust” with their health.

The North London borough of Enfield was named the worst area for local authority food hygiene enforcement in Which?’s nationwide league table of poor kitchen hygiene standards, with 54% of the establishments inspected failing to achieve basic cleanliness levels.

Edinburgh scored second worst in the rankings with just 68% of restaurants, schools, hospitals, and universities inspected, deemed hygienic.

Cherwell in the South East and Brentwood and Broxbourne in the East of England made up the top three, with at least 96 per cent of dining establishments performing well.

Shockingly, alongside Enfield, a total of five other London councils - Lewisham, Ealing, Harrow, Camden and Brent – featured in the bottom 10 rankings for poor hygiene standards.

Which?’s ranking system took into account the share of medium or high risk premises that were compliant with hygiene rules; the number of premises inspected and rated by their local authority; and the percentage of planned interventions that were carried out.

Food poisoning is a common but sometimes deadly illness caused by eating food or drink that is contaminated with harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites and other toxins. An estimated half a million people suffer food poisoning each year.

Symptoms typically involve vomiting, nausea, stomach cramps and diarrhoea, but the severity of food poisoning illnesses can vary depending on the nature of the contaminants involved.

Viruses account for the majority of food poisoning cases where a specific contaminant is identified. Noroviruses are the most prevalent viral cause of food poisoning and are typically spread via faecal contamination of water, shellfish and vegetables.

Although any business serving food and drink to the public is ultimately responsible for food hygiene standards on their premises, it is up to local authorities to ensure such standards remain high and that food is being produced in a clean and safe environment.

We as consumers expect local authorities to monitor local food businesses to ensure the rules governing food hygiene are rigorously enforced, and prosecute those that allow standards to slip.

It is absolutely right that such outlets are regularly inspected according to the Food Standards Agency inspection guidelines to protect us from poor practice and hygiene failings that are likely to endanger our health.

Tristan Hallam is a Senior Personal Injury Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK.

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