The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Food Standards Scotland (FSS) have published Our Food: An annual review of food standards across the UK. It is the first in a series of reports due to be published annually.
The report describes the key changes in food standards from 2019 to 2021, a period when the UK’s food system was affected by Brexit and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The evidence set out in this report suggests that overall food safety standards have largely been maintained during 2021. However, this is a cautious conclusion. The pandemic disrupted regular inspections, sampling and audits across the food system, reducing the amount of data UK could have drawn upon in assessing business compliance against food law requirements. It also changed patterns of consumer behaviour. In official controls three per cent of the samples taken were non-compliant in both 2020 and 2021. Most failures are associated with the detection of pesticide residues or aflatoxins.
The report highlights two particular areas of concern. Firstly there has been a fall in the level of local authority inspections of food businesses. The situation is in the process of being repaired – in particular in food hygiene inspections of cafés and restaurants – but progress is being constrained by resource and the availability of qualified professionals.
The second is in relation to the import of food from the EU. To enhance levels of assurance on higher-risk EU food like meat, dairy and eggs, and food and feed that has come to the UK via the EU, it is essential that improved controls are put in place to the timescale that the UK Government has set out (by the end of 2023). The longer the UK operates without assurance from the exporting country that products meet the UK’s high food and feed safety standards the less confident they can be that they can effectively identify potential safety incidents. It is vital that the UK has the ability to prevent entry of unsafe food and identify and respond to changing risks.