Rotting rodents and cockroaches - inside Britain's kitchen inspection backlog

An increasing number of food establishments have let hygiene standards plummet, Chris Choi reports

From cockroach infestations to rotting rodents - I'm afraid my investigation into Britain's dirty kitchens is distinctly unappetising.

What happens behind the closed doors of restaurants and takeaways can't be seen by customers, we rely on inspections from local councils.

The Covid pandemic has caused a big backlog and local environmental health inspectors are now engaged in a huge catch-up operation.

Restaurants in England do not need to show their food hygiene rating Credit: ITV News

New figures we've obtained from the Food Standards Agency show the sheer scale of the problem. As the coronavirus pandemic intensified, environmental health officers suspended kitchen inspections and joined the national effort to get through the crisis.

They were deployed in advising businesses and the public on measures being taken to reduce the spread of infection.

At the same time, many catering firms were struggling financially and also through a lack of staff.

It all added up to being a recipe for a hygiene disaster - as an increasing number of food premises let cleaning standards fall.

ITV News cameras were given special access to go behind the scenes of a massive effort now unfolding to catch-up with kitchens that have gone uninspected for years.

Credit: ITV News

What we filmed was worrying - and you can see examples here.

Cockroaches at every stage of their life-cycle close to food and serving areas; mouse droppings on serving plates and kitchen floors; rotting rodents - even a severed mouse's tail just feet from where customers were being served food.

The latest figures we've obtained from the Food Standards Agency show 53,642 kitchens listed as awaiting inspection.

What did the Food Standards Agency have to say about ITV News' investigation

The Food Standards Agency's Chief Executive, Emily Miles, has spoken to ITV News about the build-up of unclean kitchens.

She told us: " We are reassured, that's not to say we're out of the woods yet, there are still a number of businesses we need to catch up with, which local authorities need to catch up with but progress is being made. "It was a difficult situation with the pandemic, it was inevitable that this backlog grew and we now need to bring the food hygiene inspections back into the pattern that the FSA expects."

It's a backlog that's grown 210% in the year to February - yet almost a quarter (23%) of local authorities are concerned they won't meet their catch-up targets.

Watching the hard work and dedication of Environmental Health Officers was impressive but even after all their efforts there remains a problem.

Restaurants and takeaways in England are under no obligation to display their hygiene scores on the premises - unlike in Wales and Northern Ireland (there is a different system in Scotland).

Many councils are fearful they will not be able to deal with the backlog Credit: ITV News

It means many food premises that get low scores don't put the sticker up.

It seems ridiculous that kitchen cleanliness should be so much less transparent in England - and there is increasing pressure to change things.

The government has been asked to act but so far there is little sign of progress.

Anyone who wants to check the latest hygiene score of a catering outlet they are planning to visit can go to the Food Standards Agency website.

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