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Scottish Conservatives ‘misled parents’

Tom Wall12/03/2014 - 13:00

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Patick Mackie is an Argyll and Bute EHO
Patick Mackie is an Argyll and Bute EHO

Highland EHO blogger and CIEH assembly member Patrick Mackie has accused the Scottish Conservatives of misleading parents after the party’s education spokesperson Mary Scanlon claimed that many Scottish school kitchens had failed hygiene standards.

Ms Scanlon claims in a press release, that was covered by the BBC and the STV, that ‘it is simply shocking’ that ‘thousands of children’ across Scotland have been ‘served food from kitchens that have failed standard hygiene laws.’ 

The press release says 83 schools, nurseries and after-school clubs ‘operate sub-standard kitchens’, with facilities in Glasgow, Highlands and the Scottish Borders ‘among the worst offenders for cleanliness’.

It also refers to FSA inspections rather than environmental health officer inspections.

Ms Scanlon adds that many ‘parents will be horrified to know their child may have been served a meal from a facility that inspectors saw fit to serve with an improvement notice.’

Mr Mackie, the assembly representative for the CIEH Scotland region, says on his blog that the Scottish Conservatives are ‘misleading a parents’ and trying to ‘make mischief about the state of food hygiene in Scottish schools’.

FSA inspection data, which is the only source cited in the press release, confirms that between 2009 to 2013, 83 schools, nurseries and after-school clubs received ‘improvement required’ food hygiene ratings.

Mr Mackie says this only means that the establishments in question failed to meet the broadly compliant rating scores for the rating elements of food hygiene, premises condition or confidence in management.

‘Obviously, this is a matter of concern, but it does not indicate that any of these sites were serving unsafe food – a site could fail to meet the requisite standard simply by failing to maintain adequate records of temperature checks, or having some structural problems, which are not themselves directly hazardous to the safety of food being prepared,’ he writes.

He adds that the FSA data provides no basis for claiming improvement notices were served and or making inferences about cleanliness of school kitchens.

The intervention, he notes, that follows an unsatisfactory food safety inspection can range from informal advice, to an informal letter, to a formal hygiene improvement notice, all the way through to emergency closure of the premises or prosecution.

‘None of that can be interpreted simply from the food hygiene rating data on the FSA’s website,’ he writes.

Ms Scanlon has apologised for referring to FSA inspectors rather than EHOs but defended the other claims in the press release.

She says in an email to Mr Mackie that the party never sought to give the impression that every facility was in breach of cleanliness guidelines.

‘In fact, we made it clear that the “improvement required” ratings were broad in scope,’ she writes. ‘We also refrained from naming individual schools. We did this so as to ensure that serious breaches were not conflated with less serious (although still concerning) shortcomings.’

She claims the party was ‘very careful’ not to exaggerate the findings.

‘While I appreciate your argument that the news reports were not sufficiently nuanced, the story was intended to highlight a broad problem which will concern many parents, pupils and staff. As I argued at the time, and as you pointed out in your blog, all failings are issues of concern and this should not be lost sight of,’ she says.

Mr Mackie has written to her again. He is yet to receive a response.

He writes: ‘I care about evidence-based environmental health, and I care about the press and the public being given accurate information based on reliable sources about food safety and other matters of public health interest. In fact, it’s more important that the press are given accurate information, because the majority of media outlets simply don’t have either the scientifically-trained staff, the time or the inclination to check the assertions that are presented to them as facts.’

EHN approached the Scottish Conservatives but the party did not reply before publication.

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