There is a central government requirement for local authorities to comply with relevant legislation, codes of practice, guidance on enforcement priorities and a framework document to produce an annual service plan for food law enforcement.
This plan is supplementary to the Service’s Annual Operational Plan and Strategic Plan.
It gives more specific detail on the Service’s aims and objectives for the forthcoming year in complying with the current Food Law Code of Practice and Food Standards Agency Framework Agreement with Local Authorities, which embodies the requirements of the legislation.
The Trading Standards Service covers the county and unitary authority areas of Devon, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay. The Service is hosted by Devon County Council but jointly commissioned by Devon and Somerset County Councils and unitary authorities of Plymouth and Torbay, ensuring that the objectives of all four authorities are met. Governance of the Service is through a Joint Services Review Panel (JSRP).
Profile of the local authority
The area covered by Heart of the South West Trading Standards Service has a population of approximately 1.8 million and is characterised by many small businesses – over a quarter of all business are not registered to pay VAT or employ staff.
The area has four times more agricultural activity than the national average and Devon, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay are home to many innovative and well-known food producers.
Devon, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay are also popular domestic holiday destinations and attract large numbers of visitors every year. As a consequence, there are twice as many tourism businesses in the service area than the national average. Food therefore plays a key role in the economy of the area covered by the Joint Service.
The Service has appointed a Lead Officer for Food Standards who oversees the implementation and co-ordination of official controls for the Service. The Lead Officer reports to the Operations Manager and Team Manager who have strategic oversight of this area of specialism for the Service.
The day-to-day work is carried out by appropriately qualified and/or trained and experienced Trading Standards Officers who undertake this work as part of their overall duties for the Service within the teams they are based. Wherever possible work is carried out in co-ordination and partnership with other enforcement agencies such as district authority environmental health teams, the National Food Crime Unit, the Animal & Plant Health Agency and when necessary, the police.
Scope of the Food Service Plan
The Joint Service undertakes the normal range of food standards activities within the area of Devon County Council, Somerset County Council and the unitary authorities of Plymouth and Torbay.
The Service is also responsible for the enforcement of a wide range of consumer legislation controlling the advertising, marketing, production, distribution and supply of goods and services throughout the manufacturing, importation, distribution and service delivery chain.
This plan reflects the enforcement programme for food standards (including materials and articles in contact with food). Animal health premises and animal feed premises are subject to separate plans.
District councils have responsibility for food hygiene and some health and safety enforcement. Liaison and referral arrangements are in place with the district councils to ensure good co-ordination, exchange of information and referrals on relevant matters.
Several services are delivered alongside food standards. These include: weights and measures, animal health and welfare, and animal feed.
All enforcement services are provided in-house and supported by external expertise such as public analyst services, where necessary
Demands on the food service
There is a typical spread of businesses for a county ranging from small, self-employed sole traders to large national food manufacturers.
The profile of businesses recorded on the Trading Standards database is outlined below (N.B. these figures exclude those for Plymouth):
Total number of food and drink businesses: 24,401
The businesses can be broken down by type as shown in the table below.
|Food premises||Number of premises|
|Manufacturer / packer||1,323|
|Import / export||58|
|Distribution / transporter||286|
|Supermarket / hypermarket||459|
|Restaurant / cafe / canteen||4,430|
|Hotel / guest house||1,493|
|Pub / club||1,722|
|School / college||821|
|Mobile food unit||777|
|Restaurant / caterer / other||981|
The Service has an Enforcement Policy.
Service aims and objectives
Food Standards work is classified within the Service as ongoing routine operational work, and so while not highlighted as one of the main ‘service priorities’ it does receive full senior management commitment and support as an area of law which we have a statutory requirement to enforce.
The Service sets out key priority work through project-based activities. Inspections and sampling activities carried out as part of Service projects contribute fully to corporate priorities and key aims of the Joint Service, specifically the following:
- Support business growth.
- Provide advice and assistance to local businesses.
- Create a “level playing field” for reputable local businesses and maintain consumer confidence.
- Focus on the needs of rural businesses.
- Maintain emergency contingency plans.
The objectives and service targets of food work are included in the Service’s Operational Plan. Inspections and sampling targets for food can be found in that document.
Food standards premises interventions
The Food Law Code of Practice states that each food authority should document, maintain and implement a Food Standards and Food Safety Intervention Programme for which the food authority has food law enforcement responsibility. Interventions should be applied in a risk-based manner so that intensive regulation is directed at food businesses that present the greatest risk to public health.
The Service intervention programme is based partly on the National Trading Standards Board (NTSB) risk scheme and intervention frequencies indicated by the Food Law Code of Practice (as below), partly on intelligence obtained from a variety of sources and partly on sector specific surveys (surveillance) to obtain intelligence that will inform future interventions in that sector.
Food Interventions at primary production premises are carried out mainly by suitably trained and qualified animal health officers and the majority are identified in the agriculture/animal health work plan.
The Food Service interventions as indicated by the Food Law Code of Practice/NTSB rating system are listed below.
|Category||Intervention rating||Minimum intervention rating intervals|
|A – high||121-180||At least every 12 months|
|B1 – upper medium||96-120||At least every 24 months|
|B2 – lower medium||71-95||At least every 24 months|
|C – low||15-70||Alternative enforcement strategy or intervention every five years|
Food standards interventions 2021/22
All businesses are risk-assessed for Trading Standards purposes based on the NTSB national risk assessment scheme. This allows enforcement activities to be targeted towards appropriate businesses and trade sectors.
In 2021/22 the NTSB risk assessment criteria of low, lower medium, upper medium and high will only be used partially to determine the enforcement activities included in the plan.
The NTSB minimum intervention rating intervals will not be followed in the case of premises rated upper medium, lower medium or low risk due to the broader commitments of the Service, to other areas of work.
A limited number of inspections will be undertaken, based on the focus identified in the 2021/22 Food Standards strategic assessment in line with the wider service control strategy with priority focus on high-risk rated premises.
The 2020/21 strategic assessment identified food allergens as a main priority area. There will be a continuation of the food allergens project which commenced in 2020/21. It will include the provision of allergen information and safety inspections at caterers and ‘ready-to-eat’ food business operators, alongside a programme of sampling which was unable to proceed as planned in 2020/21 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Approximately 120 primary inspection visits to catering premises are planned for 2021/22. There are an additional 30 high risk follow-up inspections planned to catering premises where there have been previous failures to disclose allergens in ready-to-eat foods. Each of these visits will focus heavily on the allergen management systems in place to ensure accurate allergen information is available to consumers at the point of sale.
In addition to the primary inspections programmed as part of the allergens project the Service will continue to visit high-risk food premises as part of its routine visit programme.
Sampling work for the Service for food standards for 2021/22 falls into two categories:
- Allergen project – sampling at catering establishments for undeclared allergens in ready-to-eat foods and follow-up samples for unsatisfactory samples procured in 2019/20. Programme of sampling to include approximately 120 samples of ready-to-eat food from catering premises and an additional 30 follow-up samples from previous failures
- Complaint samples – common issues such as meat speciation, meat content declarations, food authenticity and food safety continue to be priority areas of work and samples may be procured as part of an investigation
NTSB risk rating intervention intervals v Service planned interventions.
Service Planned Interventions 2021/22:
A. High Risk Premises 100% planned intervention number – 30
All food premises that are rated as high risk will be subject to a primary food standards inspection in 2021/22.
B1 upper medium, B2 lower medium and C low-risk premises
Service Planned Interventions 2021/22:
B1 NTSB upper medium, B2 lower medium, C low-risk premises
Planned intervention indicative number – 0
Food complaints, service requests and advice to businesses
Trading Standards investigations and business support teams receive enquiries requesting assistance or advice and complaints relating to food labelling, standards, claims and descriptions.
All complaints received into the Service are risk scored and acted on where appropriate. The information is recorded for intelligence purposes and may be used to monitor and identify problem traders, consumer trends or assist future investigations. The information may also be used to determine intervention intervals.
In 2020/21 the number of complaints and service requests received concerning food was as follows:
|New food registrations||113|
|Request for advice from a business or the public||110|
|Primary Authority contact from a trader||39|
|Request from another agency||10|
|Pre-prepared foods (labels, contamination, ingredients, durability)||35|
|Meat (speciation, misdescription, illegal claims, labels)||30|
|Other foods (claims)||29|
|Cakes/confectionary (home producers, allergens)||14|
|Bakery and cereal (labelling and contamination)||13|
It is expected that similar numbers are received in 2021/22.
Trading Standards provides comprehensive advice, guidance and support to food businesses to encourage legislative compliance and to promote a fair trading environment.
Business advice includes exhibitions, training, the Buy With Confidence scheme, newsletters, website information and press releases to inform traders of their rights and responsibilities in general, and in relation to specific current issues. During the Covid-19 pandemic the service has evolved its business advice function to offer virtual training to businesses through the use of online webinars.
This also extends to:
- On-the-spot advice during routine visits and interventions.
- Advice to new food businesses.
- Business information/advice sheets.
- Responding to general enquiries.
- Providing training/seminars.
Primary Authority scheme
The Service has a balanced approach towards law enforcement and promotes business membership of Primary Authority partnerships. These arrangements are entered into by businesses with local authorities throughout the UK. This places special emphasis on the legality of goods and services originating in Devon, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay, thus helping businesses meet legal obligations without unnecessary expense.
Primary Authority agreements are in place with several Devon, Somerset and Torbay businesses including food businesses. Under a Primary Authority agreement businesses contract with Heart of the South West Trading Standards Service for a service, the delivery of which is overseen by the Office for Product Safety and Standards. This service delivery is chargeable on a cost-recovery basis.
The Service adheres to good enforcement practice and is signed up to the Enforcement Concordat agreed between local and central government. In all enforcement decisions it abides by the Service’s enforcement policy which has been agreed by elected Members of all three local councils that the Service is provided for and is available on request. It reflects the principles of the Enforcement Concordat and recognises that most businesses and traders want to comply with the law. It is also in accordance with the statutory Regulators Code issued by the Minister of State under section 22(1) of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006. However, if stronger action is necessary, investigations are undertaken in accordance with legal requirements and Home Office guidelines. Before instituting legal proceedings, the Service applies the Code for Crown Prosecutors to ensure decisions about prosecutions are made in a fair and consistent manner.
Heart of the South West Trading Standards Service continues to support the Home Authority principle for any business that decides not to enter into the Primary Authority scheme. It ensures that Home Authority relationships with food manufacturers will be maintained and fostered, including intervention and sampling visits.
Food projects and sampling
The Service identifies key areas of work determined by analysis of intelligence received indicating areas of greatest harm to consumers and businesses. In 2020/21 the issue of undeclared allergens in food was identified as a key priority area and a project was initiated with the aim of improving allergen management systems and consumer awareness. This project is being rolled over to 2021/22 to enable the sampling and inspection elements that were delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic to be completed.
Where possible, sampling will be aimed at locally produced foods, those products/ingredients from companies that manufacture in Devon, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay or foods imported into Devon, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay.
Priorities and areas of concern are identified through communication with the Food Standards Agency (FSA), the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), through local, regional and national intelligence held by local authorities, and through consultation with the Public Analyst.
Targeted sampling programme
Samples to be taken are:
- Ready-to-eat foods at catering premises for the presence of undeclared allergens – minimum 30.
- Focus on high-risk premises with previous sample failures.
The Service will carry out sampling in response to consumer complaints or in accordance with areas of concern that have been identified as a result of intelligence received or resulting from previous work undertaken locally or nationally in these areas.
The service will assess the intelligence available throughout the year and may plan further project-based sampling if warranted. This is likely to include food supplements through online food sellers and reactive work in relation to food authenticity that may be identified as a result of Brexit.
Food hygiene – primary production
The EU Food Hygiene Regulations applicable to primary production came into effect on 1 January 2006. The general principles of food hygiene legislation extend to all farms engaged in the primary production of food. Although there are some very limited exclusions, this includes stock and arable farms where any food crops are grown.
Food hygiene is usually the responsibility of Environmental Health, but as Trading Standards already carries out farm interventions for animal health and welfare, the responsibility of enforcing this legislation falls with Trading Standards.
All primary producers subject to an animal health intervention will receive a food hygiene intervention at the same time.
Feed/food safety incidents
All food and feed alerts are received from the Food Standards Agency via the FSA “Smarter Communications” platform.
Action will depend on the nature of the incident and will be dealt with in accordance with the FSA Code of Practice.
Most of the food and feed alerts are for information only, but food and feed alerts for action may require immediate action to remove the food hazard from the food chain. These food and feed alerts can potentially have an impact on programmed interventions.
Trading Standards will co-ordinate action with Environmental Health in cases of joint responsibility.
Liaison with other organisations
Heart of the South West Trading Standards Service has close links with consumer groups and other community organisations and liaison arrangements exist with the police and other council services on community safety, and crime and disorder strategies. Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) have been agreed with district authority food authorities within the joint service area and a separate MOU is being set up as part of the 2021/22 allergens project to ensure effective partnership working in relation to this key area of food safety work.
The Service works closely with the FSA, Defra and the National Farmers Union on animal health and welfare issues. Other arrangements exist with anti-counterfeiting groups and HM Revenue & Customs and with Devon & Cornwall and Avon & Somerset police forces.
Co-ordination of activities was previously achieved at local, regional, national and European level through the Local Authorities Coordinators of Regulatory Services (LG Regulation). New arrangements have not yet been confirmed but liaison groups still operate at regional level.
Heart of the South West Trading Standards Service is a member of Trading Standards South West (TSSW), which represents the 13 local authorities that cover the South West region and works to achieve harmony and consistency of approach across the region.
Food enforcement liaison exists with the district councils, the National Food Crime Unit (NFCU), the police, the NHS and other relevant Devon and Somerset organisations.
The overall budget contains specific sums for the costs associated with sampling and testing of goods and services. For 2021/22 the budget includes allowance for up to 30 allergens samples and complaint samples as needed for food testing and analysis.
Food standards authorised officers
The current staffing levels for the service are outlined in Appendix 2 of the Trading Standards Service Strategic Plan 2019-2023 for the Service Structure. Annex 1 of this plan indicates the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) officers allocated to food standards work.
A total of 12 FTE officers are qualified to enforce the Food Safety Act in relation to high-risk businesses.
On average it is estimated that approximately 20% of these officers’ work is food related.
Food hygiene at primary production officers
There are 20 officers who currently carry out animal health interventions. On average it is estimated that approximately 30% of their work is animal health related.
Cross team and incident support
Officers are encouraged to work across teams and in other areas to enhance their skills and understanding of all functions of the Service.
However, further resources will be allocated in the event of an incident, emerging risks or investigation as necessary.
The Head of Trading Standards has overall responsibility for the delivery of official food controls.
Staff learning and development
A mixture of formal courses, short courses, webinars and in-house training is undertaken, and a review of training undertaken ensures that the right training is chosen for any given situation. A programme of qualification training is delivered in respect of the Trading Standards Institute’s qualification framework for all Trading Standards professionals.
Officers who are suitably qualified, experienced and competent to carry out the range of tasks and duties they are required to perform are authorised officers for the purposes of enforcing the provisions of the Food Safety Act, food hygiene at primary production level and other food standards related regulations, including the Official Feed and Food Controls Regulations. Authorisation of Food Law Enforcement Officers is controlled and audited.
Continuous professional development
All officers engaged in food standards enforcement complete their mandatory 10 hours of continuous professional development and 10 hours of ‘other professional matters’ each year through a variety of different training processes as well as self-learning.
Heart of the South West Trading Standards Service is developing a quality system that will be regularly reviewed and that is specific for food standards. However currently quality is assessed by:
- Monitoring individual officer workloads and progress against allocated food work, carried out as part of their monthly one-to-one meetings with allocated team managers.
- Assessing training requirements and targets during annual and six-monthly appraisals.
- An annual review of competency and monitoring of quality of work to ensure consistency across the Service in completion of forms, entry on to databases and training needs for food officers, which as a whole is carried out by the Lead Officer in conjunction with team managers.
A Service Performance Report which includes food standards is published annually.
A quarterly performance report is provided to the Joint Service Review Panel which includes the progress against food targets.
Operational targets are reviewed monthly at team manager group meetings.
Inspection and sampling plans are reviewed by the Lead Officer on a quarterly basis in line with returns required for completion of funded work. Any issues will be brought to the attention of the team manager group.
Areas for improvement in the Service’s food standards delivery are:
- Continue with reviewing, updating and amalgamating of procedures and policies onto the food standards pages on the staff website.
- Improve the quality of food standards interventions and the knowledge and experience of officers carrying out this work.
- Improve liaison and coordination with other authorities and agencies
- Raise the profile of the Service with customers and Members.
- Continue to improve quality of data held on the database and improve reporting.
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