Only 11% of councils managed to carry out their planned food checks on time, with eight missing over 1,000 inspections of local food businesses.
The figures, obtained through freedom of information by the Unchecked.uk campaign, show that more than fifty thousand food hygiene checks were outstanding in 2017/18.
There are 568,324 food establishments in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Overall, 91% of all food businesses achieved compliance in 2018/19 – around the same level as the previous year.
However, 80% of the highest risk “A-rated” premises and 36% of B-rated ones in England, Northern Ireland and Wales are failing to meet basic food hygiene standards – including cleanliness, correct handling of food, and temperature control.
The number of food outlets has risen rapidly, leaving cash-strapped councils struggling to keep up.
“Local authority enforcement teams are just not being given the tools they need to do their job, which is undermining their efforts to keep people safe,” said Unchecked.uk’s project lead Emma Rose.
In June, the National Audit Office warned that food safety and standards are “under strain”, with some local authorities failing to meet their legal responsibilities to ensure food businesses comply with food laws. Only 37% of the food standards checks due (which ensure food is what it says it is) actually took place in 2017-18. The Chartered Institute of Environment Health (CIEH) said the findings make the case for halting the erosion of public protection, and in particular the environmental health workforce in local government.
The Food Standards Agency’s new inspection strategy has also come under fire, with many expressing concern that it represents a weakening of UK food law enforcement.