Food is an important and growing industry in Northumberland and you are more likely to find a business with a positive food hygiene rating in the county than regionally or nationally.
The percentage of food businesses with a rating of satisfactory to very good (three to five stars) is 98.2 per cent, which continues to compare favourably with both the national average of 94.6 per cent and regional average of 96.4 per cent.
These figures come from the annual report from the council’s public health protection unit in relation to its responsibility for inspecting the 5,555 food and feed premises in Northumberland.
Of these, 3,767 are premises subject to food safety and food standards regulation, while 1,788 are businesses, mainly farms, subject to animal feed regulations.
The service received 227 complaints about food in 2017-18, for example, foreign objects, food causing illness, the hygiene of food premises or food handlers. There were a further 132 complaints about food composition, labelling or quality.
The unit met its targets for checking most types of businesses, but missed the 90 per cent mark for low-risk hygiene inspections.
It only managed 83 per cent due to long-term staff sickness, however, this was on a par with two other councils in the North East and significantly better than two others.
In terms of enforcement, the unit issued 974 written warnings, four voluntary closure agreements and five improvement notices.
The report also highlights that a specific issue has been identified in relation to peanuts in Indian meals.
Trading standards officers visited six premises and asked for a meal, specifically saying they wanted the meal without nuts as they were allergic to them. But of the six samples, four came back showing a presence of peanut.
Formal investigations have been carried out into each seller and case files are now with the council’s legal team.
Illegal alcohol continues to be an issue in Northumberland too, usually branded spirit bottles being topped up with other cheaper brands.
Two investigations resulted in the removal from sale of more than two dozen bottles of illicit spirits.
The public health protection unit continues to deliver the Produced in Northumberland verification scheme, which has 77 members as well as 40 recent expressions of interest.
There was a 95 per cent retention of membership in 2017-18.
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service