Thanet Council’s Food Safety Service is in meltdown, placing the public at elevated risk of food poisoning or worse. The service was audited 2 years ago by the Government’s Food Standard Authority (FSA) which is responsible for the regulation of local authority food safety teams across the country. The Audit was a disaster. The service was found to be failing miserably in virtually every aspect of its work (you can see the audit report here ). An action plan was approved by the FSA and Thanet Council was given 12-18 months to put things right. In July of this year the FSA carried out a re-visit to check on progress, only to discover that things had become much worse. So concerned were FSA bosses that they took the unusual step of calling senior Thanet Council officers to an escalation meeting with their Head of Audit.
Exactly what was said at the re-visit and the escalation meeting remains a secret. Both Thanet Council and the FSA have refused to let me have copies of any reports, letters or e-mails related to these events. However, I have submitted Freedom of Information requests which should hopefully reveal what went on. In the meantime an insider has told me that the FSA was so angry about Thanet’s Council’s failure to
get is Food Safety Service in order, that they threatened to take direct control of the service themselves – a very rare step reserved only for the terminally dysfunctional.
On Monday the FSA published a revised Action Plan for Thanet’s Food Safety Service (you can view the plan here ) which catalogues a whole series of extremely serious service failures and demonstrates that even now, 2 years after the original Audit, the Thanet Food Safety Service is unfit for purpose and, I would argue, putting the health and safety of Thanet residents at elevated risk of food poising or worse.
According to the Action Plan, there is a massive backlog of food safety premise inspections; the complaints process which allows the public to alert officers about unfit or dodgy food premises is in a state of near collapse; there has been no routine pro-active food sampling for over a year; there is no accurate database of food premises in Thanet; records of food outlet inspections and enforcements are incomplete and of poor quality; food safety officers are not fully trained and several are unable to carry out a full range of duties; the documentation used by the service is incomplete and out of date; there is no effective system of internal quality monitoring resulting in serious inconsistencies in the quality of inspections and enforcements; there is even doubt as to whether inspections and enforcements are being carried out in line with legal requirements. Quite frankly this is a service which rather than protecting the public from poor food hygiene and food crime is actually exposing the public to greater risk because it is not doing its job!
What makes me angry is the fact that until last week, Thanet Councillors and the Thanet residents had been kept in dark about this extremely serious failure. The FSA re-visit took place almost 6 months ago and it was not until last week that anything was reported to Councillors. In my opinion this matter is so serious that is should have been reported to the first available meeting of the Council after the re-visit. It was not. Like Pleasurama and the TransEuropa debt scandal before, Thanet Council and the Labour Party Political bosses in the Cabinet did what they do best and hid the truth about this matter from most of its elected councillors and all of the public. This is particularly shameful and disgusting because this scandal involves public health, especially youngsters and older people who are most susceptible to food borne illness.
What also makes me angry is the pathetic lack of action by the FSA. They knew that Thanet Food Safety Services had been in a state of more or less total failure since 2011. When they revisited in 2013 they said themselves that things had actually become worse – that’s why they had an escalation meeting. But instead of taking decisive action against a service which has been failing for more than 2 years and compromising the safety of residents and visitors, they have given Thanet Food Safety Services another 4 months to improve.
I have now written to the Chief Executive of the FSA expressing my dissatisfaction about their handling of the situation and have asked that they assume the management of Thanet Food Safety Services with immediate effect. I have also written to the Secretary of State for Health asking that he intervenes. Although I am sure that the overwhelming majority of food outlets in Thanet are excellent, its simply not right that our food safety is left to a service which has been unfit for purpose for more than 2 years and which is placing the health and safety of residents at riskI will keep you updated as the situation develops. But please don’t be scared off going out for a celebratory meal over Xmas. I might even see you in one Thanet’s excellent curry houses as I did with a reader of this blog just last week!