Local authority official controls in approved dairy establishments carrying out cheese recovery in England audit

Last updated:
19 December 2008
These audits were planned to assess the effectiveness of local authority systems for approval of dairy establishments and the effectiveness of routine official controls in approved dairy establishments, with particular focus on establishments involved in handling and processing down-grade and/or mould contaminated cheese.

Executive summary

Most local authorities had developed and implemented generally effective procedures for approval. Some areas for improvement were identified, mainly in relation to animal by-products (ABP) controls, exclusion of products that were not fit for human consumption from the human food chain, product labelling and traceability, and compliance with official guidance.

File records confirmed that approval applications had in all cases been appropriately assessed and recorded before approvals were granted by local authorities. With the exception of two approved establishments, all the other 14 businesses visited as part of the audit programme were operating in accordance with their approval conditions.

Assessment of local authority inspection of approved establishments confirmed that nine of the ten audited authorities had inspected approved dairy establishments in their areas in accordance with the minimum frequencies specified in the Food Law Code of Practice. While five of the ten authorities were using well-structured inspection protocols or aides-memoire for approved dairy establishments inspections, the remainder did not have such a structured approach to inspections. In these cases, inspection reports did not show the full scope of routine official controls and the extent to which checks undertaken during inspections, had verified compliance with statutory requirements, the Food Law Code of Practice and official guidance.

Examination of the local authority file records of approved establishments confirmed that while some local authorities' records were well ordered, comprehensive and information on visits and other enforcement activities were easily retrievable, this was not the case in more than half of the audited authorities whose file records did not contain adequate information.

There was evidence that local authorities were working closely with businesses, and that officers provided information and advice routinely to support businesses in complying with food law.

Officers responsible for official controls in approved establishments had been correctly authorised by nine local authorities in accordance with the qualification, competency and experience requirements of the Food Law Code of Practice, and had attended relevant update training.

Although the audits confirmed that the essential framework for implementation of official controls in approved establishments had been developed in all authorities, the recommendations are aimed at improving effectiveness and consistency of local authority enforcement.

The audits also identified the need to develop enhanced liaison and referral arrangements between environmental health and trading standards services in order to close any gaps in food law enforcement, particularly in relation to food standards and animal by-products (ABP) enforcement issues.

Official controls in approved dairy establishments
The effectiveness of food business operator (FBO) controls in the approved establishments visited was variable. A number of recommendations were made to improve compliance with legal requirements and the relevant official guidance issued by the Agency. It was evident that all LAs had actively promoted and disseminated the cheese recovery guidance, although it was observed that some FBOs were not operating in full accordance with the guidance.

Seven of the ten audited authorities were not adequately assessing the effectiveness of arrangements for disposal of waste cheese that was not suitable for human consumption, to establish compliance with requirements of the ABP Regulation (EC) No 1774/2002, and the Agency’s cheese recovery guidance.

In two approved establishments it was noted that line waste and floor sweepings, which were not suitable for human consumption, were not labelled as such in accordance with official guidance. The audits also highlighted unlawful practices that posed potential public health risks. These included practices whereby waste and down-grade cheese, including floor sweepings, were not consigned for disposal through approved routes, but were in some cases being sold on to other food businesses in the UK, and other EU countries. Subsequent audits of the receiving establishments confirmed that the product was being re-processed and re-packaged for sale. In two approved establishments, it was noted that the FBOs did not have adequate controls to exclude Aspergillus (black) mould-contaminated cheese and other unsuitable cheese from recovery operations.

Where significant deficiencies were identified, auditors discussed and agreed the required remedial measures with enforcement officers and FBOs. In all cases written recommendations were made to enforcement authorities, to undertake appropriate follow-up actions and to ensure effective monitoring, thereafter, to confirm continuing compliance with requirements and official guidance. Subsequent follow-up contacts with relevant local authorities confirmed that all authorities had undertaken appropriate follow-up actions and had where necessary referred cases to appropriate authorities or agencies.

The audits identified a number of issues for the Agency and other stakeholders including, Defra and LACORS. These are outlined in Section 6 of the full report.