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CIEH highlights workforce shortages amid E.coli outbreak

11 June 2024

IN LIGHT of the recent E.coli outbreak affecting over 100 individuals across the UK, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) underscores the essential role environmental health plays in protecting public health, urging parliamentary candidates to recognise the importance of environmental health in preventing such outbreaks.

The steady rise of food borne illness in 2024, now manifesting into a UK wide outbreak linked to a nationally distributed food item, highlights the urgent need to address workforce shortages and capacity challenges within the environmental health profession​. 

Environmental Health Practitioners (EHPs) play a vital role in preventing and responding to foodborne disease outbreaks. They conduct regular inspections of food establishments to ensure compliance with hygiene and safety standards. They assess hygiene practices, food storage conditions, and cooking methods to ensure compliance with health regulations, identifying any potential contamination sources in the process.  

EHPs also provide training and educational programmes for food handlers and businesses to promote good hygiene practices and food safety awareness. This includes issuing instructions on proper handwashing procedures, cooking temperatures and safe food storage.  

Finally, EHPs will now be crucial in the investigation of the recent E.coli outbreak, from interviewing members of the public to visiting premises that have been implicated in the outbreak.  

However, as illustrated by the Food Standards Agency’s Local Authority Capacity and Capability report, local authorities are experiencing significant issues around the recruitment and retention of suitably qualified and experienced officers to carry out this vital work.  

With regular and thorough inspections carried out by suitably qualified environmental health professionals a crucial part of preventing and managing outbreaks of foodborne illnesses such as E.coli, CIEH are calling upon parliamentary candidates to engage with CIEH during this campaign and commit to raising awareness of this issue in parliament if elected.  

Louise Hosking, executive director of environmental health at CIEH said, “Environmental health professionals are the unsung heroes of public health – they are our first line of defence against foodborne illnesses. 

The recent E.coli outbreak underscores the critical role our members play in ensuring food safety and protecting the public. Without sufficient staffing and resources, our ability to prevent such outbreaks is severely compromised. 

We need urgent action to address the workforce shortages and capacity challenges facing our profession. I urge parliamentary candidates to engage with us and commit to raising awareness of this issue in parliament if elected. Supporting and strengthening the environmental health workforce is essential to safeguarding our communities and preventing future public health crises.”