Consumer Editor Emma McKinney spent the day with Birmingham City Council’s environmental health officers to see first-hand the work they do to ensure restaurants are in top-top health.
Food Safety Team Leader Andrew Marshall has seen so many appalling conditions in Birmingham eateries that he admits he is hard to shock these days.
Having worked for Birmingham City Council’s environmental health team for the last 14 years, he has inspected hundreds of premises and seen some of the worst kinds of conditions imaginable.
“There’s no doubt you have to have a sturdy stomach for this job,” he says. “I think you need a lot of patience too as we come across a lot of stumbling blocks trying to do our job.”
In fact within minutes of beginning his first inspection of the day at a small tofu-making factory in Winson Green, Andrew meets his first barrier when we are greeted by workers who cannot speak English.
Eventually he manages to get hold of the factory’s owner on the phone, who says he can’t come to meet him, so the inspection goes ahead regardless.
All inspections are unannounced – ensuring officers get a true picture of conditions where food is being prepared. However, this can lead to a less than welcoming response from proprietors.
“People can be pretty hostile,” adds Andrew. “But they need to realise we are not there to point the finger, we are there to see if they are complying with the law.
“I think it’s their perception that we are there to close them down, but we only do that if conditions are really bad.”
Donning a white hat and coat, Andrew leaves no stone unturned as he examines every inch of the factory, including the cleanliness of the floors, work surfaces and even the ceiling.
Using a probe, he checks the temperatures of the fridges and the tofu itself, he goes through the company’s paperwork with a fine tooth comb to make sure it’s up to date and even the staff come under scrutiny as he checks hair is tucked away under hats, gloves are on hands and overalls cover bodies.
Leaving the inspection, Andrew declares he is less impressed with standards slipping in the last year.
“It’s quite frustrating as I worked with this company a lot and they had got a better than average rating, but now I’d probably award one to two Hs so we need to go back to the drawing board and start again,” he says.
“I guess it emphasises how important our job is, without us here to check I dread to think how some companies would operate.”