MORE than 200 eateries across Winchester were slapped with written warnings about the need to improve food hygiene standards, it has been revealed.

Figures released by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) show that 210 informal warnings were issued to businesses in the district in 2019-20.

Inspectors also took formal enforcement action against three establishments.

One was served with a hygiene improvement notice and another closed voluntarily to enable action to be taken to resolve hygiene issues.

But the names of those businesses where serious action has been taken cannot be revealed as Winchester City Council refused a request from the Chronicle, despite Southampton City Council disclosing the eateries reprimanded to the Chronicle’s sister paper the Daily Echo.

The FSA figures have sparked a warning from the Royal Society for Public Health.

Maria Jennings, director of regulatory compliance at the FSA, said: “Whilst the latest figures are not dissimilar to those from in 2018-19, we acknowledge that Covid-19 has clearly created significant pressures on local authorities since the end of March.

"We’ll be considering the impact the pandemic has had on their resources and on delivering their statutory responsibilities in relation to food at the FSA Board’s business committee meeting on December 8.”

Restaurants and caterers make up the majority of businesses inspected nationally, but any establishment which handles unpacked food including farms and manufacturers can be subject to a visit.

If a business is not meeting requirements the agency can take a range of actions, from informal steps such as advice and guidance or a written warning, to closure or even prosecution in the most serious cases.

Any potential breach of food hygiene regulations can prompt an informal warning, including problems with cleanliness, record keeping and separation of cooked and raw foods.

Officials consider the seriousness of the case, as well as the co-operation of the business, before deciding on what further action to take.

In total, 151,300 written warnings were handed out across England, Wales and Northern Ireland last year, and 4,800 formal enforcement actions were taken.

While the latest figures only cover a small period of the Covid-19 pandemic, the FSA said the crisis created "unprecedented challenges for local authorities in delivering their statutory food functions”, with councils advised to postpone some planned inspections during the first national lockdown period.