More than 100 St Helens businesses that handle food are failing to meet hygiene standards, new data reveals.
All food businesses are given a hygiene rating from zero to five, with a rating of at least three indicating they are broadly compliant with hygiene law.
There are 1,404 such establishments in St Helens, according to the latest data from the Fod Hygiene Standards Agency, which includes restaurants, shops and takeaways as well as food manufacturers and distributors.
Of these, 121 – 9% – had a hygiene rating of two or below as of 2018-19, meaning improvements are necessary.
This was in line with the rate across England, Wales and Northern Ireland .
Not all establishments will have been inspected during the course of the year.
Businesses are also given a risk ranking to determine how often they need to be assessed, based on factors such as the type of food being handled or the number of consumers potentially at risk.
As of March, there were four St Helens businesses placed in the most high-risk category – three of which had a hygiene rating of less than three.
Of all the businesses that did face an inspection or other form of assessment in 2018-19, three were subject to some kind of formal action from the council or courts.
This included two hygiene improvement notices, and one voluntary closure.Written warnings were issued to 667 businesses.
Across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, council inspectors took enforcement actions, including informal written warnings, against almost 160,000 establishments.
The proportion of businesses with a hygiene rating of at least three increased slightly, rising by 0.5 percentage points compared to the previous year.
In total, councils carried out 86.3% of all the interventions due to be completed during the course of the year, which can include activities such as surveillance, sampling visits or full inspections – up from 85.1% the previous year.
Maria Jennings, director of regulatory compliance of the Food Standards Agency, said: "Local authorities are there to ensure that food businesses produce food that is safe and what it says it is.
"One of the FSA's roles is to have oversight and assurance about their performance.
"It is good to see an increase in the total percentage of planned hygiene interventions that local authorities are carrying out and an increase in premises with standards equivalent to a food hygiene rating of three, four and five."
St Helens Borough Council estimates that it employs the equivalent of 4 full-time members of staff who are responsible for managing food hygiene standards.
That's 2.8 employees for every 1,000 businesses, higher than the national average of 2.6.