Consumer watchdog Which? said local authorities were meant to rate businesses within 28 days of opening to ensure they are up to scratch and to determine how often they need to inspect them in future. However, in Birmingham, 16% of food businesses hadn’t yet been rated.
The Lancashire borough of Hyndburn was the second-lowest scoring area. Two in five of its high and medium-risk food businesses met food hygiene standards, compared with 98% in Harrogate, which is about an hour away in North Yorkshire.
According to the BBC, Mark Croxford of Birmingham City Council said he was disappointed and surprised to see Which? had failed to engage with local authorities to produce a meaningful report.
He pointed out that the same data showed council officers had inspected the second highest number of premises, undertaken more prosecutions, closed more food premises and suspended more approved manufacturers than any other English local authority in 2016/17.
Croxford said more than 1,000 new food businesses were registered in the city in 2016/17, presenting a “significant challenge”.
Not a true reflection
He also said the council’s officers had 8,341 sites to inspect across Birmingham, second only to Cornwall with 8,652.
The BBC also reported that Hyndburn Council’s deputy leader Paul Cox said the research findings were not a true reflection of the current picture in Hyndburn and the statistics used were 13 months out of date.
Cox also said “significant strides” to improve food hygiene performance had been taken and there had been a big improvement.
He added: “We have completed 100% of inspections for the past two years and our most recently submitted figures to the FSA for 2017/18 show the true picture, that 92.5% of food businesses in Hyndburn are compliant.”
Meanwhile, there were 85,220 consumer complaints about food quality and hygiene in 2016/17, 23.5% more than the previous year.
It also found that in one London borough, none of the 34 high-risk food premises met hygiene expectations.
The study also found the authorities responsible for enforcing food safety were increasingly under-resourced. There was, on average across the UK, one member of staff policing 403 food businesses.
There were 1,697 more businesses operating without a food hygiene rating in 2016/17 than two years previously.
Erewash, in Derbyshire, was the highest-rated area for food hygiene in the analysis. Some 97% of its high and medium-risk food businesses were compliant. There was also action taken on all companies found not to be up to scratch.
The borough of Basingstoke and Deane, in Hampshire, came in close second with 96% of high and medium-risk food businesses meeting minimum standards.
Sunderland, North Dorset and South Kesteven completed the top five areas in 2016/17.
Three Rivers council, in south-west Hertfordshire, was the most-improved local authority. In Which?’s 2015/16 investigation, it ranked among the lowest performing quarter of the areas. In 2016/17, it was among the top 20%.