Cutting the frequency of food hygiene inspections at restaurants and takeaways in Birmingham will lead to a fall in standards and could harm public safety, city environmental chiefs have warned.
The national Food Standards Agency (FSA) is considering cutting the number of council-run inspections of restaurants, pubs, cafes and takeaways and allowing firms to use their own private inspectors.
Food hygiene ratings, which range from 0 for the poorest kitchens to 5 for the best, have proved popular since the city council began publishing them in 2010.
Businesses are inspected every six months to three years depending on their risk level. In extreme cases inspectors have found mouse infestation, out of date food, unclean cooking facilities and shut venues on the spot.
In a court case earlier this week, Hotel Du Vin was fined £120,000 after inspectors found mouse droppings in the kitchen.
And the Victorian Restaurant in Great Western Arcade was also fined after mouse droppings were found on the floor, shelvings and work surfaces.
But the FSA has said the independent council inspections put a huge burden on businesses and is consulting over replacing them with in house inspections.
Birmingham’s environmental health chiefs are opposing the FSA plans and fear this will lead to lower standards and increase the likelihood of kitchens being unsafe.
And they have evidence after 72 businesses, out of the 7,606 registered food providers in Birmingham, slipped through the net and missed their routine inspections for up to five years.
Inspectors turned up and found that 19 of 72 had to be closed down on the spot and an incredible 68 per cent were given ratings of 2 or lower and needed improvement.
Of the more than 7,000 businesses regularly inspected 44 per cent have the top score of 5 and 81 per cent are at least broadly compliant with food standards.
Food inspection manager Nick Lowe said that there is a ten-fold increase in emergency closures for businesses who were not regularly inspected - effectively standards were allowed to slip.
He said: “If you regularly inspect businesses they are generally more compliant. If you remove that you start to affect the level of compliance.”
He said it also removes the burden of costly interventions as legal notices, health and safety inspections and follow up inspections all end up costing both the businesses and authorities more.
“As a means of saving resources it is a false economy,” he said.
He pointed out that a two-hour unannounced inspection every 18 months on food premises is not a huge financial burden anyway.
Members of Birmingham City Council’s public protection committee also raised concerns over businesses, generally the larger restaurant and pub chains, hiring their own hygiene auditors. This would lead to a two-tier and possibly inconsistent inspection system and cause confusion.
They said that the city council would be unwilling to publish ratings given by outside organisations and were told that other councils have made similar arguments.
Councillor Liz Clemments (Lab, Hall Green) said: “Businesses should not see inspections as a burden. This is about keeping us all safe.”
Her colleague councillor Mike Leddy (Lab, Brandwood) added: “I thank Mr Lowe and his team for the way in which they keep the people of Birmingham safe.”