The Director of City Services advised the Members that the Food Safety Unit worked with local businesses to build compliance and to ensure that food produced and sold in Belfast was safe.
The Committee was advised that The Food Hygiene Rating Act (NI) 2016 required businesses to display their food hygiene rating, improving the opportunities for consumers to make informed choices and encouraging improved compliance. This also enhanced the reputation of Belfast as a safe place to visit, with at least 95% of food businesses rated as 3, 4 or 5 (broadly compliant or better).
The Director advised that Brexit continued to pose a major challenge for the service, with the potential for additional checks on the import and export of foods. She reported that the Council was working closely with the Food Standards Agency, DAERA, government departments, local businesses and other stakeholders to plan for reasonable worst-case scenarios and to ensure that adequate arrangements were in place to facilitate trade and to protect consumers.
In addition, she advised that it was estimated that around 2 million people living in the UK had a food allergy, this required officers to ensure that food businesses provided the required (allergen) information to enable consumers to make informed choices. Recent cases of severe allergic reactions, including the tragic death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse after eating a Pret a Manger sandwich, had highlighted concerns regarding the adequacy of labelling requirements for food that was prepacked for direct sale (PPDS). She advised that new labelling legislation which had came into force on 1st October 2021, required any business that produced PPDS food to label it with the name of the food and a full ingredients list, with allergenic ingredients to be highlighted within the list. She reported that these additional legal requirements necessitated officer time to support, monitor and ensure compliance and were likely to impact significantly on the unit.
The Director then drew the Members’ attention to the Service Delivery Plan that detailed the activities, techniques and approaches to be taken during the year to support businesses in ensuring food safety, food standards and to promote informed healthy choices available here. She advised that the Plan provided the basis on which the Council’s regulatory activities were monitored and audited by the Food Standards Agency and it was a requirement that it was presented to the Council for approval, to ensure local transparency and accountability.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) had a key role in overseeing local authority regulatory activities to ensure that official controls were delivered. Powers to enable the FSA to monitor and audit local authorities were contained in the Food Standards Act 1999. A detailed Framework Agreement on local food law enforcement had been produced by the Agency, in conjunction with local authority representative bodies, to provide guidance on how regulatory service plans should be structured and what they should contain. Service plans developed under these arrangements provided the basis on which local authorities were monitored and audited by the Food Standards Agency.
The Committee approved the Food Service Delivery Plan 2021-2022.