Food Standards Agency hit West Lindsey traders with more than 200 hygiene warnings in 2019-20

Traders in West Lindsey were slapped with written warnings on food hygiene issues more than 200 times last year, according to new official figures from the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

The regulator says 222 informal written warnings were handed out to food businesses across the district in 2019-20.

On six occasions, inspectors took formal enforcement action against traders, including one voluntary closure and five hygiene improvement notices.

In total, 151,300 written warnings were handed out across England, Wales and Northern Ireland last year, and 4,800 formal enforcement actions were taken.

Experts say the pandemic may have implications for food safety standards. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

The figures only cover the early weeks of the pandemic, but the FSA said the crisis has since created "unprecedented challenges for local authorities in delivering their statutory food functions”, with councils advised to postpone some planned inspections during the first national lockdown period.

Maria Jennings, director of regulatory compliance, said: “While the latest figures are not dissimilar to those from in 2018-19, we acknowledge that Covid-19 has clearly created significant pressures on local authorities since the end of March.

"We’ll be considering the impact the pandemic has had on their resources and on delivering their statutory responsibilities in relation to food.”

The FSA visits businesses across the three nations to ensure they adhere to the law.

Most inspections apply to restaurants and caterers, but any establishment which handles unpacked food including farms and manufacturers can be subject to a visit.

If a business is not meeting requirements the agency can take a range of actions, from informal advice and guidance or a written warning, to closure or even prosecution in the most serious cases.

Any potential breach of regulations can prompt an informal warning, including problems with cleanliness, record keeping and separation of cooked and raw foods.

Officials consider the seriousness of the case, as well as the co-operation of the business, before deciding on what further action to take.

A pilot study was due to begin this year as part of a radical overhaul of food policies and standards , but has been postponed until 2021.

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