2 - 8 May, 2001

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Steps taken to improve food hygiene in retail outlets


By Miriam Dunn

Health inspectors have intensified their campaign to improve food hygiene this month by adding all retail outlets selling food to their Risk Assessment Programme.

When the programme, which involves awarding grades between A and F to premises, was first introduced three years ago, its application was restricted to hotel kitchens. It was then extended to include all catering establishments last October and has now, from the beginning of April, been developed further to include retail outlets, such as supermarkets, grocers and butchers.

The inspections will work on the same lines as the programme for hotels, awarding outlets grades. Any grade between A and C would be deemed acceptable. Outlets only achieving a grade E or F are being referred for legal action.

Chief health inspector John Attard Kingswell said that between October and March, there were 1,297 inspections carried out in catering establishments. From those inspected, three quarters were found to be satisfactory or above, while the other 25% needed to make some improvements.

"A small number – 0.6% - failed the inspection completely and the findings were handed over for legal action to be taken against the outlets," he said. No figures have yet been released for the inspections undertaken at food retail outlets.

With summer approaching, the Public Health officials will also be looking out for long-running problems, such as dairy products, which need to be refrigerated, sitting outside shops before opening.

The chief health inspector admitted that he and his colleagues often find that the same problems crop up during inspections, sometimes stemming from negligence or perhaps oversights due to pressure of work.

"We see a pattern in the problems we come across, such as fridges being stocked incorrectly with a mixture of cooked and raw food, or perhaps insufficient personal hygiene among employees," he explained. "In fact, one point we have long emphasised is the importance of ensuring that staff who work with food are sufficiently trained."

Health inspectors should also have more support at a legislative level later this year when the new Food Safety Act is due to come into force.

Mr Attard Kingswell said that the new Act had been given a first reading in Parliament and should now be discussed in the House.

"This law is significant because it will see Malta become 100% compliant with EU legislation," he said.

 



The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
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