Food hygiene inspection law needs more resources, union warns
Fears food hygiene inspectors will be overwhelmed with demands to carry out inspections of cafes and restaurants have been raised by a union.
It comes ahead of a new law in Wales forcing food outlets to prominently display their food hygiene rating known as "scores on the doors".
But Unison said inspectors were already under pressure.
Businesses also fear loss of trade if they have to wait for re-inspection to improve low scores.
From November, the new Welsh government law aims to build on a voluntary scheme, in which restaurants, takeaways and supermarkets in Wales display food hygiene ratings, from the worst at 0 to the best at 5.
But Unison said the 137 food inspectors employed by Wales' 22 councils were already under pressure with their current workload.
It fears food inspectors will struggle to keep up with demand from those businesses given low scores.
The new law states that a business has the right to a re-inspection within three months of making a request. Most councils currently operate a six-month window.
Dominic MacAskill, head of local government for Unison in Wales, said the union welcomed the new legislation as an opportunity to highlight the work of environmental health officers.
But the union feared the demand by food establishments to have their score-on-the-door reviewed would detract from non-statutory functions that were still important.
He said an example of "proactive preventative measures" that might suffer was the responsibility of environmental health officers to inspect school toilets following recent e-coli outbreaks.
He said: "I think what we're worried about is that it's going to be robbing Peter to pay Paul.
"Things such as health promotion are not statutory requirements, so they're the thing that may give in order to meet the statutory requirements of this new bill.
"The concern is it is not just the 0-1s that are going to apply for reviews, it's going to be the 3s and 4s that want to be 5s, so there's going to be a significant increase in demand for this service."
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said businesses who have to wait too long for a re-inspection - having made the necessary improvements, or after feeling the initial inspection was unfair - could lose trade.
Rhodri Evans, of FSB Wales, said: "The key thing we're concerned about is that premises are re-inspected in a timely fashion.
"There's a three-month target [in the legislation] to do that. If that was to slip we'd be very concerned.
"There are always going to be those businesses who feel they've been unfairly inspected and they want a recourse to a rating that they feel reflects the true nature of their business.
"And also there are those businesses that have addressed issues raised by inspectors and have put things right, and we should be rewarding businesses for doing that."
Vale of Glamorgan council leader Neil Moore, who speaks for the Welsh Local Government Association on regulatory services, said no extra money had been given for the extra food inspection duties.
"This will add additional pressures to deliver services such as this in a financially challenging climate," he said.
"We will make every effort to comply with the legislation, though it could have a knock-on effect for other work that cannot be completed as a result, particularly in respect of the requests for revisits."
The Welsh government said the draft Food Hygiene Rating (Wales) Regulations have recently been the subject of a public consultation.
Officials are currently analysing the responses and a final report will be published in due course.
"The outcomes of the consultation will not change the legislation laid out by the Food Hygiene Rating (Wales) Act, which places an obligation on the food premises to display their rating sticker until those premises can be re-inspected and a re-rating is given," a spokesperson added.