Hygiene inspectors have stopped visiting Fife’s “low risk” food premises amid critical staff shortages.
Fife Council’s environmental health team said they were no longer able to carry out proactive visits and were only responding to complaints or queries from businesses.
Medium and high risk premises are still being inspected but many visits are overdue as the under-resourced team struggles to meet demand.
The findings of an audit by Food Standards Scotland (FSS) released in June, found there were too few environmental health officers to ensure the region’s food outlets comply with standards and hygiene legislation, with a huge backlog of inspections due.
Lisa McCann, food and workplace safety service manager, said matters had not progressed “as well as expected” since then, as the department is still seven members of staff short due to long-term absence, maternity leave and recruitment difficulties.
She said multiple recruitment attempts had failed due to a national shortage of environmental health officers and described the issue as being of “grave concern”.
The impact of Brexit, particularly in the event of a no deal, is expected to significantly increase demand on resources.
Councillors have expressed “anxiety” and “nervousness” over the situation.
SNP member Ross Vettraino, convener of the environment and protective services committee, said: “The environmental health service is the public’s last line of defence.
“Without them, there is nothing to protect people from the threats and hazards out there.”
Liberal Democrat councillor Tim Brett added: “I’m really quite worried and anxious as to how critical this service is to keep us all safe in Fife.
“It might be that everyone is having the same problems but that doesn’t reassure me.”
Ms McCann, the current president of independent body the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland, said there was a vast amount of work ongoing in a bid to train and recruit staff.
“The biggest issue for us is the reducing number of environmental health officers in local authority and the ageing profile of the workforce,” she said.
The recruitment of trainees, apprentices and technicians is being looked at.
Figures released by the FSS in June showed that of the 4,200 food businesses in Fife, 2,283 were overdue interventions for food hygiene and 1,832 for food standards.
As well as staff shortages, officers have had to deal with a number of beach contaminations, including at Limekilns and Anstruther.