The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) is seeking stakeholder input on an updated framework for primary production official control (OC) inspections at dairy establishments in England and Wales. FSA intends to introduce an increased frequency of OC inspection at establishments that are assessed to be less compliant.
As the existing framework has not been updated since 2012, FSA commissioned a review of the frequency of OC inspections at registered dairy establishments to inform possible updates. A group of stakeholders was gathered to review the current inspection frequencies, which concluded that the current system of using assurance schemes to oversee standards compliance is adequate. The Red Tractor Farm Assurance (RTFA) scheme allows dairy establishments to benefit from “earned recognition,” requiring less frequent FSA OC inspections at premises that remain compliant with the assurance scheme standards.
Additionally, data showed that the current routine inspection frequencies applied at all registered farms are satisfactory and proportionate. It was noted, however, that some improvements could be made to how FSA ensures that premises that are found to be non-compliant regain compliance and maintain the expected standards.
The proposed approach would adjust the current approach that sorts establishments into one of four levels of compliance—good, generally satisfactory, improvement necessary, or urgent improvement necessary—based on compliance ratings generated from OC inspections. In the current model, if major non-compliances are found at an establishment, the premises will have a follow-up inspection. If rectified, the establishment will move back to its previous inspection frequency, which will either be every 6 months (if producing raw milk), every 2 years, or every 10 years (for RTFA members).
The current approach leaves significant room for interpretation in its guidance on choosing a compliance level to apply depending on an inspection. Additionally, current compliance levels do not have any influence on the next OC inspection frequency, and once all non-compliances have been rectified, the premise returns to its original inspection frequency.
FSA is proposing to adjust the risk rating framework to increase the frequency of OC inspection at dairy establishments assessed to be less compliant. The agency will do this by:
- Introducing a numerical scoring system that weighs areas of greater significance to public health and animal welfare, and use of such scores to determine risk rating categories
- Replacing the existing four compliance categories with three score rating categories that focus on risk (low, medium, high)
- Using the risk category applied following inspections to determine the frequency of the next programmed OC inspection for that premise, prioritizing FSA resources at businesses that are found to be least compliant.
FSA believes that the proposed changes will provide greater clarity for dairy premises in terms of how they have been assessed and how to return to compliance, an increased level of trust and confidence in the dairy industry, and reduced likelihood of a foodborne illness outbreak from raw milk produced for drinking.
Stakeholders interested in responding to the consultation should email email@example.com by March 10, 2023, mentioning organizational affiliation, if any.