Hundreds of food outlets in Reading left uninspected

The council is in charge of running official food controls in the town which involves holding food standards and hygiene inspections of businesses.

But figures have revealed that 905 premises are due a food standards inspection and 852 premises are due a food hygiene inspection.

The amount of delayed inspections has been blamed on staff shortages, with the issue being discussed at a council policy committee meeting.

Councillor Rob White, the leader of the opposition, expressed alarm at the backlog.

Cllr White (Green, Park) said: “I was very concerned when the council published the figures on the backlog for food hygiene and food standards inspections.

“Both backlogs are approaching 1000 premises due an inspection.

“With food hygiene, there has been a 330 per cent increase in non-compliant premises in the town compared to the previous year.”

The figures relating to food hygiene and standard inspections were acquired by cllr White in a councillor briefing from Katie Heath, principal environmental health officer.

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Cllr White said: “I’m sure many residents use the excellent Scores on the Doors website to decide where to eat.

“If a premises scores a zero this means that the health of customers is at immediate risk and food is unsafe to eat.

“In this situation, the council will take the necessary action.

“However because the backlog is so large there are many premises which haven’t been inspected for some time.

“There will undoubtedly be some premises in this backlog which would score a zero if inspected and are unsafe to eat food from.

“The fault here clearly lies with the Labour administration for not prioritising this area.

“This team is understaffed and struggling to recruit. Labour councillors need to allow a higher wage to be offered to attract qualified applicants.”

His argument was echoed by cllr Dr Anne Thompson (Liberal Democrats, Tilehurst), who suggested that the council look at the salary package offered to attract the staff needed.

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Labour members of the committee acknowledged the backlog, with Jason Brock, the leader of the council, commenting that staff are under pressure due to the ‘astronomical’ growth of food businesses since the pandemic.

Ruth McEwan (Labour, Church, lead councillor for public health), did say that the council is currently on the lookout for a full-time environmental health officer (EHO), a part-time EHO and an apprentice.

Cllr Jason Brock (Labour, Southcote), the leader of the council said: “It’s always right to be concerned about things like this cllr White, and you’re entirely right that the challenge is around recruitment and staff.

“I think apprenticeships are going to be the way forward in a great many roles around the council to grow our own and offer opportunities to people in Reading because it’s become that much harder to get trained experienced staff.”

The backlog was discussed as the policy committee was asked to approve the council’s Food Service Plan for 2023-2024.

It involves hiring staff and prioritising premises that may present the most risk to customers for inspection.

The plan was approved unanimously by the committee on Monday, July 10.

If a premises presents enough of a public health risk, it can be closed down using a Hygiene Prohibition Notice, with a longer closure being imposed using a Hygiene Prohibition Order obtained from a Magistrates Court.

A recent example of this was N&B Foods, a wholesaler in Tilehurst which was temporarily forced to shut after council officers discovered a rat infestation at the premises.

Reading Chronicle | Town Centre