DISRUPTION from Covid-19 has caused a “significant backlog” of food safety checks in restaurants and takeaways in Cardiff.
Environmental health officers usually tasked with inspecting kitchens have been seconded to help respond to the pandemic over the past two years.
These inspections lead to ratings for cafes, restaurants and takeaways on how clean their kitchens are.
However, the huge backlog of inspections means many food hygiene ratings in Cardiff could now be out of date.
Helen Picton, head of Shared Regulatory Services, said:
“We’re operating under difficult circumstances, both in terms of budget pressures but also in the aftermath of the response to Covid.
“We still have a number of members of staff seconded into roles where they’re supporting the test and trace effort, and also the Covid compliance checks in businesses.”
Shared Regulatory Services carries out food safety inspections, as well as other checks, on behalf of Cardiff council, Vale of Glamorgan council and Bridgend council. Ms Picton told councillors on Cardiff’s environmental scrutiny committee about the latest problems, during a meeting on Tuesday, February 22, including budget cuts to the department.
“There’s a lot of good work there [responding to the pandemic], but unfortunately it has come at a cost to business-as-usual work. That’s now in the process of straightening out, but it’ll take time. There are a number of key agendas where we’re behind.
“We have significant backlogs in relation to food standards and safety, and we’re working closely with the Food Standards Agency to readjust that. But it will take some time.”
From April, Cardiff council is proposing to reduce its funding to Shared Regulatory Services by £86,000, although this will impact business administration rather than frontline checks.
As well as funding cuts and seconded staff, another issue is an ageing workforce and problems recruiting new staff. A future solution being explored is new apprenticeships.
Ms Picton added:
“We’re also having difficulty recruiting suitably qualified staff. Unfortunately it isn’t as simple as recruiting into the general population for an environmental health officer or a trading standards officer. Those officers have to be trained over a number of years, and have years and years of competence and experience.”