Key findings for 2022
2022 was a deeply challenging year for consumers. Food prices rose at a faster rate than inflation for much of the year and were accompanied by sharp increases in other household expenses, adding to the strain on people’s finances. Overall spending on in-home food reduced by 6.9% in 2022 compared to 2021. Oils and spreads, dairy and alternatives, and fish, eggs, meat and other proteins experienced faster price rises than other Eatwell Guide food groups - all of them essential elements in many people’s diets. FSA and FSS focus group research showed people across a wide range of income brackets were making compromises such as swapping out premium brands for budget ranges or eating out less in a bid to cut costs.
A record number of households – one in five across England, Wales and Northern Ireland – were classified as food insecure in 2022, meaning that their diet and/or food intake had been limited in some way due to their financial or personal circumstances. Similar evidence of increased food insecurity can be seen in Scottish data. A minority of people across the UK also reported cutting corners on food preparation and hygiene, including reducing their use of fridges and freezers or reducing the length of time they cooked their food, to reduce energy bills.
The global food system had to adapt to abrupt shifts in trading patterns as traditional supply lines were disrupted for some commodities. Though the available data from border checks does not indicate any shift in the safety of goods arriving from outside the EU, the UK has increased the number of high-risk foods now subject to enhanced checks at the border, partly in response to concerns about pesticide residues and other toxins in products from certain countries. As EU imports are not currently checked, we cannot comment authoritatively on the safety of goods arriving from the EU.
As we develop new trading partnerships, FSA and FSS will continue to advise government on whether new free trade agreements (FTAs) uphold statutory food safety protections. To support the public’s interest in understanding the wider production values of imported food, FSA and FSS are also exploring how to address the lack of robust, international data on issues such as animal welfare and environmental and ethical production standards.
Although food businesses have also experienced sharp rises in their costs, the latest inspection data suggests this has not translated into any detectable reduction in compliance with food hygiene standards. Based on the latest inspection data as at the end of 2022, the vast majority of food businesses had met food hygiene standards at the point when they were last inspected.
Meanwhile the number of local authority inspections carried out returned to pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels in 2022. This is an important milestone, but it should be noted there were still approximately 39,500 unrated businesses at the end of 2022 across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Adequate resourcing is vital for ensuring food hygiene rules are upheld, but the FSA’s analysis of local authority staffing shows there are approximately 14% fewer food safety posts being funded across England, Wales and Northern Ireland compared to a decade ago – and even where these posts do exist, over 13% are vacant.
The situation in Scotland is more pronounced, where there are 25% fewer food safety posts than in 2016. There have also been reductions in food standards and food law officer posts across the UK, further challenging the ability of local authorities to carry out essential checks on food authenticity, composition and information standards. In 2022, both FSA and FSS had to take additional measures to address the ongoing resourcing challenges being faced by the veterinary profession – particularly in the recruitment of Official Veterinarians (OVs).
Analysis of reported food incidents and foodborne disease outbreaks, the results of national sampling programmes delivered by FSA, FSS and Defra, and the available intelligence on food crime do not suggest there has been any significant change in food safety and authenticity standards during 2022. However, we are concerned about ongoing breaches in food composition labelling in relation to allergens. To address this, further collaboration with local
authorities and food businesses will be required.
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