When placing elderly loved ones in care or sending young children to school, you expect their vulnerability would guarantee only the finest hygiene standards.
Yet, shockingly, 50 care and educational establishments in Greater Manchester have been putting thousands at risk, by dangerously failing to adhere to hygiene basics.
Deadly e-coli hazards and mould-ridden kitchens count among the reasons why council health chiefs – working to Food Standards Agency (FSA) guidelines – have shamed the 50.
Currently, 36 premises described as ‘hospitals, childcare and caring premises’ and 14 school and colleges have Food Hygiene Ratings of two or below – meaning vast improvement is required.
An industry insider, who wishes to remain anonymous, said the figures made for unhappy reading.
“This is especially worrying considering these establishments feed the most vulnerable people, those who are least likely to survive a serious case of food poisoning,” he said.
“Those that do not take food hygiene seriously are a disgrace; they need to stop treating food hygiene laws as a joke and their customers with contempt and disrespect.
“As consumers we have the real power to make our food safer and avoid being made ill by dangerous food – boycotting these cowboys will effect change.”
The scores – frequently updated on the FSA website – show that Salford is currently Greater Manchester’s worst offender.
Nine out of 138 (7%) care premises score two or below on the six-point scale, alongside two out of 15 (13%) educational facilities – with one nursery even scoring zero.
Wigan is another poor offender, with eight care premises and three educational premises below par.
Oldham and Stockport each have four care facilities which require major improvement, while Bolton has three educational premises below the standard.
Councillor Gena Merrett, Assistant Mayor for Housing and Environment on Salford City Council, insisted the low scores reflected a tough stance on non-compliant premises.
“Salford City Council takes food hygiene very seriously, works hard to maintain and drive up standards, and will always take firm action against any establishment which fails to meet acceptable standards,” she said.
“As well keeping their kitchens clean and food safe, premises must keep clear and up-to-date records of their safety management practices, such as how they train staff and how cleaning is carried out.
“If they do not have satisfactory records we will rate them as 1, even if everything else is broadly compliant.
“The paperwork takes a few hours to set up and a few minutes daily to maintain so there is no excuse.”
Many establishments score poorly in the ratings due to issues such as dirty kitchens, potential e-coli risks, poor staff training and inadequate food management records.
Some other notable reasons for failure include out-of-date food, mould growth in preparation areas and a lack of adequate hand-washing facilities.
Didsbury Road Primary School in Stockport, for example, was rated one in February 2012 for ‘severe’ mould growth deemed ‘a hazard to food and health’.
“Our kitchen is regularly inspected to the highest standards to ensure it’s clean and safe for all the children and staff,” headteacher Tim Kendrick told MM.
“The mould problem was rectified immediately and a new ventilation system organised to bring this up to standard.”
Meanwhile, Manor Hey Care Home in Urmston scored one last October, for failing to separating raw and cooked meat preparation areas.
Such an offence constitutes a huge risk of food poisoning, which could lead to severe illness of vulnerable residents.
Indeed, more than one million cases of food poisoning are reported in the UK every year, costing the taxpayer £1.5billion and causing 500 deaths.
Furthermore, Heathside Cottage in Oldham scored one in February 2012 for multiple offences including storing a three-week out-of-date lasagne in the refrigerator.
A spokeswoman for the facility, which offers 24-hour supported living to three clients, said the lasagne was being defrosted following a power-cut.
“We’ve followed all instructions and taken on all the advice, which has helped us improve our standards of hygiene vastly,” she said.
“On our revisit the inspector was very happy with what she found.”
The Food Hygiene Ratings Scheme was introduced by the FSA in 2010, to bring hygiene information into the public domain.
However, after council examination, displaying hygiene scores on premises is not compulsory and inspection reports are not posted online.
The expert insider insisted this should be mandatory, alongside immediate closure for one-or-below-rated establishments and higher standards of hygiene certificate for all food handlers.
However the insider, who has worked in the industry for more than 20 years, claimed that any such feedback is shunned by the FSA.
“The scheme is a great idea made pointless by its execution,” he said.
“The FSA are insular and arrogant, and any suggestions or complaints are contemptuously brushed aside.
“Whilst they have made some progress I think they represent a very poor return on the taxpayer’s pound.
“I would be interested to see provable statistics of have much they have reduced
food poisoning in England, which is surely the ultimate point of their existence.
“I would guess that if you stopped ten people in the street, nine of them haven’t heard of Food Hygiene Ratings or know that you can check scores online.
“I wouldn’t call that a great success.”
However, an FSA spokesperson defended their record, insisting that their Food Hygiene Ratings scheme is adequately implemented.
“Anyone can check the rating of places which serve food, including schools, hospitals and care homes,” said the spokesperson.
“All these places must take food hygiene seriously, and if people think their rating isn’t good enough, they can put pressure on those establishments to improve.
“If standards are so poor that they present an imminent risk to public health – this means food may not be safe to eat – the officer must take action and is likely to close the business down.”
For further information regarding food hygiene, or to view an establishment’s food hygiene rating, visit http://www.food.gov.uk/.
All statistics correct on 18/01/2012.