Food safety standards at Harrogate businesses 'deteriorated' during pandemic
Food safety standards at some Harrogate businesses have "deteriorated significantly" during the Covid pandemic, a report has revealed.
Inspections by food safety officers resumed in July after being halted earlier in the pandemic and there has since been three voluntary closures of businesses and two emergency hygiene prohibition orders issued - more than the two previous years combined.
That is according to a new report from Harrogate Borough Council which said "standards have deteriorated significantly" and that staff were now working through a backlog of inspections.
The report said: "Since recommencing full on-site food hygiene inspections in July 2021 it appears that standards have deteriorated significantly in some premises.
"This seems to be partly due to changes in food business operators during the lockdowns whilst we were unable to carry out full on-site inspections.
"However, some existing traders have just let standards slip."
While the council carried out inspections at all 'high risk' food establishments, just 16% of new businesses were inspected against a target of 90% in 2020/21.
During the same period, 24% of 'lower risk' businesses were inspected against a target of 95%.
The report said this was "entirely due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic" during which staff focused their efforts on infection control, advice and enforcement.
One business which was served an emergency hygiene prohibition order was the Black Swan Inn in Fearby near Masham which was found to have a rodent infestation and dirty kitchen during a routine inspection.
The order was served in August by the council which said the pub was "dirty throughout" and that staff were unable to wash their hands after handling raw food.
Speaking at the time, councillor Mike Chambers, cabinet member for housing and safer communities at the council, said: "It is imperative that food businesses maintain hygiene and food safety at all times, even more so during the current Covid-19 pandemic.
"The council's environmental health officers work hard to provide guidance and advice to businesses in ensuring that they can operate safely.
"Any business failing to heed and act on such advice - which then subsequently fails an inspection which identifies a risk to public health - needs to understand that we will, when necessary, not hesitate to take formal action which could well result in prosecution."
At a meeting on Tuesday, councillor Chambers approved a food service recovery plan which details the work to be carried out by inspectors over the coming year.
This includes inspecting the average 200 new food establishments that register each year, targeting efforts towards 'high risk' businesses and managing food safety standards at the increasing number of events and festivals.
The plan said: "The overall aim will be for the local authority to choose the most appropriate action to be taken to drive up levels of compliance by food establishments with food law."
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter