Welsh Government proposals to give food businesses longer to appeal against a hygiene rating and local authorities longer to consider any appeal will cause significant delays before the information is displayed warns Consumer Focus Wales.
Under the current system food businesses only have seven days to appeal against a rating but the government’s Food Hygiene Rating (Wales) Bill plans to stretch this to 21 days. The consumer watchdog fears this could delay the information being displayed by almost two months (56 days), as appeals considered by food authorities could take up to 21 days under new proposals, following an authority already having had 14 days after the initial inspection to send out the notice of their rating to a food business, advising them of their right to appeal.
There are also concerns about the knock-on effect appeal delays will have on the length of time it will take for ratings to be published on the Food Standard Agency’s Food Hygiene Ratings Scheme (FHRS) website. At the moment inspection ratings are not required to be published on the site for 91 days but the proposed appeal delays could mean it will now be approximately four months (112 days) before they appear.
Liz Withers, Head of Policy at Consumer Focus Wales, said:
‘Whilst we appreciate concerns were raised at consultation around the impact of holidays of either food operators or food authority representatives with responsibility for these issues needing time to respond, we feel that twenty-one days is excessive. This could result in significant delay of almost two months before the consumer is able to view the new rating at the food business premises.
‘We think the current timelines under the voluntary scheme of seven days were reasonable and proportionate. However, appreciating the concerns raised by authorities, perhaps extending this period to ten days might be more appropriate. It is important that consumers are given information as quickly as possible without creating unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles.
‘Whilst we strongly support the introduction of this Bill, it is vital to get the detail of these proposals right to ensure that consumers can benefit from easier access to food hygiene information. It is key that consumers have access to up to date and reliable information on ratings at the earliest opportunity following an inspection.’
Consumer Focus will recommend to the Health and Social Care committee (on 12 July 2012) that an appeal by food businesses must be made within 10 days from the date of receipt of notification. It will also recommend that a food authority must determine the appeal and notify the operator of the establishment of its decision within 10 days from the date the appeal was received.