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EHOs to be given new powers

Corin Williams20/10/2011 - 9:45

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Food safety - restaurant
Food safety - restaurant

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has said plans to allow EHOs to immediately close down unsafe food businesses without recourse to the courts will not prove a burden on industry.

But concerns have been raised that the FSA may not have the resources to advertise the new powers due to restrictions imposed by the Cabinet Office’s efficiency reform group.

Last month the FSA board voted to extend the use of remedial action notices (RANs) to all food establishments. Unlike emergency prohibition notices and orders, EHOs would be able to take action ‘stopping or reducing an activity’ without requiring approval from a magistrate.

Currently RANs can only be used in slaughterhouses and other approved premises handling animal products under EC regulations. The extension is scheduled to come into use in April next year.

Speaking at the FSA’s board meeting, chief executive Tim Smith said he and chair Jeff Rooker had been made aware by ministers that ‘any new burden on industry is bound to be challenged’.

An FSA spokesperson said: ‘The FSA does not believe that the extension introduces any new burdens on businesses that are complying with the existing hygiene regulations.

‘The proposed extension of RANs was raised by industry during the coalition government’s Red Tape Challenge, which was aimed at reducing regulatory burdens on business.’

Members of the FSA board also asked that use of RANs be advertised to local authorities and businesses.

But Mr Smith said launching a campaign using the FSA’s usual ‘communication methods’ was in doubt. He added: ‘That might not be possible, because every time we want to make a communications exercise of any description, it’s going through the Efficiency Reform Group.’

The Board also agreed to introduce a compensation clause to protect businesses from the risk of misuse. The FSA will submit the proposed extension to the coalition government’s Reducing Regulation Committee for consideration later this year, once an impact assessment has been considered by the Regulatory Policy Committee.

The extension of RANs was first proposed to the FSA board in July 2010. It was put forward following a review of EHOs legal powers set up in the wake of Prof Hugh Pennington’s inquiry into the 2005 E. coli O157 outbreak in Wales.

In 2008/09 councils issued 17 RANs on approved businesses and the FSA issued 34. None of the notices were appealed.

Response from the Food Standards Agency:

To clarify, food business operators do have a right of appeal to the courts against an authorised officer’s decision to serve a RAN. If a non-compliance is serious enough to warrant closing down a business, a RAN would not usually be the appropriate way of achieving this. RANs are likely to be served in situations where the food business operator can achieve compliance in a short time frame, thereby raising standards so that shutting the business is a last resort.

Philip Flaherty, food hygiene policy manager, FSA

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