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 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, Somerset, Plymouth and Torbay Councils, 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 as 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 Food Standards Agency, the National Food Crime Unit, port health authorities ,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, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay Councils.
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: 26,966.
The businesses can be broken down by type as shown in the table below.
|Food premises||Number of premises|
|Manufacturer / packer||1,696|
|Import / export||75|
|Distribution / transporter||327|
|Supermarket / hypermarket||583|
|Restaurant / cafe / canteen||4,881|
|Hotel / guest house||1,559|
|Pub / club||1,889|
|School / college||823|
|Mobile food unit||1,309|
|Restaurant / caterer / other||1,094|
The service area has seen a significant growth in the food industry with an additional 800 premises registering as food businesses. The most notable growth since the COVID-19 pandemic has been in the catering and mobile food sectors.
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.
We support delivery of all four partner local authorities’ strategic goals. Although not identical, they can be grouped into a set of generic priorities expressed by four key outcomes which make up the Service Mission Statement:
- Economic growth is supported by ensuring a fair, responsible and competitive trading environment.
- Consumers, especially the more vulnerable, are protected and more confident; communities are safer, better informed and more fully engaged in the work of the Service.
- To help people live healthier lives by preventing harm, promoting individual health and supporting the creation of a healthier environment.
- To be recognised for innovation, excellent service and as a great place to work.
Our enforcement priorities are identified through an annual Strategic Assessment, which analyses the last three years of Service activity to identify key issues and likely trends.
A law enforcement model of risk is then used to rank each service functional area by balancing threat and harm with the capabilities and resources of our joint Trading Standards Service.
Threat factors assessed included reported physical harm, financial detriment and volume of complaints received.
These are then prioritised and incorporated into our Control Strategy. Our five priority areas for 2023/24 are:
- Illegal tobacco and vapes.
- Doorstep crime and rogue trading.
- Allergens and standards.
- Animal health, welfare and disease control.
Key cross-cutting priorities for 2023/24 which will receive intervention as required are environmental issues/climate change and e-crime.
For more information on this and our wider work, structure and governance see Service plans, governance and policies.
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 2023/24
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 2023/24 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.
Routine interventions were restricted during the COVID-19 pandemic whereby guidance issued by the Food Standards Agency has been followed. Last year the service resumed routine interventions focusing on high-priority, high-risk premises to ensure resources were directed most effectively. This service has been committed to reviewing and updating existing risk bands on high-risk food businesses through a series of physical inspections and the use of Alternative Enforcement Strategies followed by a desktop risk assessment. It is estimated to take three years to complete this review and is subject to the ongoing situation relating to COVID-19 and other external factors that are likely to have an impact on resources. This year the service will carry out a similar level of high-risk inspections with 50 physical inspections and 50 premises subject to an Alternative Enforcement Strategy.
The strategic assessment of 2023/24 identified the need to continue to prioritise work in relation to the presence of undeclared allergens in food. This is of particular significance following the introduction of Natasha’s Law and the requirement to ensure food that is prepacked for direct sale is appropriately labelled with a full list of ingredients and allergens highlighted in bold. Last year this service carried out a programme of planned market surveillance and achieved its target of 100 food samples tested for the presence of undeclared allergens. This programme focused on food sold as prepacked for direct sale and premises that have previously failed analysis on the presence of undeclared allergens and returned a 75% failure rate. All businesses received follow-up interventions based on risk.
This year our service will carry out market surveillance in the catering sector by procuring 75 samples of food made to order from a menu for the presence of undeclared allergens. This is an intelligence-led approach to tackle the risk of food safety incidents that could result in consumers suffering illness or injury from food-borne allergens.
In addition to the high-priority, high-risk inspections and market surveillance programmed as part of the services strategic allergen work the Service will also carry out a discreet project to monitor compliance in the international food retail sector. This will involve selecting 25 independent retailers of international food to carry out physical inspections and/or sampling with appropriate follow-up work. Imported food makes up a significant proportion of the food consumed in the UK and poses a risk to human health if import restrictions are not followed correctly. This Service will actively engage with international food retailers to provide support and guidance where appropriate.
Sampling work for the Service for Food Standards for 2023/24 falls into three categories:
- Undeclared allergens – sampling at catering establishments for undeclared allergens in food sold loose and prepared to order from a menu and follow-up samples for unsatisfactory samples procured in 2021/22. Programme of sampling to include approximately 75 samples of prepared food from catering premises.
- International food retailers – 25 premises to be selected for inspection and/or sampling as appropriate to check compliance with imported food restrictions.
- Complaint samples – common issues such as meat speciation, meat content declarations, food authenticity, unauthorised ingredients and food safety continue to be priority areas of work and samples may be procured as part of an investigation
High Risk Premises
NTSB risk rating intervention intervals v Service planned interventions.
Service Planned Interventions 2023/24:
- A Rated High Risk Premises prioritised for onsite intervention – 50 inspections.
- A Rated High Risk Premises allocated for Alternative Enforcement Strategy – 50.
B1 Upper Medium, B2 Lower Medium and C Low Risk Premises
Service Planned Interventions 2023/24:
B1 NTSB Upper Medium, B2 Lower Medium, C Low Risk Premises
Planned Intervention Indicative number – 0 (delayed due to long-term impact of COVID-19 and continued growth in new food business registrations).
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 undeclared allergens, general food labelling, health and nutrition claims, provenance claims, food authenticity and food 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 and reports are generated to inform annual strategic assessments as part of annual Service Planning.
In 2022/23 the number of complaints and service requests received concerning food was as follows:
|New food registrations||1,565|
|Request for advice from a business or the public||62|
|Primary Authority contact from a trader||51|
|Request from another agency||25|
New food business registrations continue to rise with a significant increase on notifications received last year. We continue to work closely with our Primary Authority food businesses and work closely with the Food Standards Agency, the National Food Crime Unit and our partners in environmental health. The past year has also seen a marked increase in partnership working most notably with the National Food Crime Unit and environmental health.
|Durability (out of date foods)||22|
|Sweets and chocolate||20|
|Claims (health and nutrition/provenance)||4|
|Meat (speciation, misdescription)||10|
|Contamination (unauthorised ingredients)||5|
|Total food-related complaints received||289|
Food labelling and allergens are the most complained about food standards related issues with undeclared allergens posing the greatest risk to consumers.
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 and Made in Devon schemes, newsletters, website information and press releases and social media publications to inform traders and consumers 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.
The Service operates a scheme known as Made in Devon which offers branding and promotional opportunities to businesses that satisfy scheme membership criteria. There are currently 18 food and drink businesses based in Devon that are members of this scheme.
Qualified food officers provide a specialist consultancy service to auditors of the scheme which focuses on business compliance and authenticity of food origin claims. As part of the application process businesses receive tailored advice and support and each application will involve approximately 10 hours of a competent officer’s time.
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 businesses in the Heart of the South West, 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 four 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 was rolled over to 2021/22 to enable the sampling and inspection elements that were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic to be completed.
This year the issue of undeclared allergens in food continues to be a high-priority area of work. This year our allergen sampling work will target the catering sector where food is sold prepared to order from a menu. A programme of market surveillance will be carried out with a target of 75 samples to be procured and analysed for the presence of undeclared allergens. Non-compliance will be dealt with in accordance with the Food Law Code of Practice with proportionate action being taken according to the risk posed to consumers, the severity of the breach and the previous history of the business.
In response to intelligence received from external partners this service will carry out a discreet project looking at imported foods at approximately 25 independent high street international food retailers. This project will be monitoring levels of compliance with the requirements that relate to importing food and drink into the UK with an emphasis on products that are prohibited to be brought into the UK for safety reasons.
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, the Department of the 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 that are prepared to order from a menu at eat-in catering premises to include restaurants, cafes and bistros for the presence of undeclared allergens – minimum 75.
- Focusing on high-risk premises with previous sample failures or highlighted by partner agencies as high-risk for allergen control.
- Up to 25 samples to be procured of imported foods from independent international high street retailers.
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 (FSA) 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 allergens MOU is being set up 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.
Coordination 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 2023/24 the following budget has been set aside for this purpose:
Food testing and analysis: to be confirmed.
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 these officers’ work is animal health related.
Cross team and incident support
Members of staff 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.
Service structure in relation to Official Food Standards.
- Trading Standards Leadership Group (0.1 full-time equivalent (FTE))
- Lead Officer (0.5 FTE)
- Intelligence and Investigations (0.4 FTE)
- Business Support (2.0 FTE)
- Operational Support Team (0.2 FTE)
Staff learning and development
A mixture of formal courses, short courses 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. As a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic the majority of food officer training is now carried out online through a range of professional training providers.
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.
- Training requirements and targets are further assessed 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 onto databases and training needs for Food officers 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 six-monthly performance report is made to the Joint Service Review Panel which includes the progress against food targets.
Operational targets are reviewed monthly at Trading Standards Leadership Group (TSLG) 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 TSLG.
Areas for improvement in the Service’s Food Standards delivery are identified as:
- 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.