A poor food safety enforcement rating in Waltham Forest needs proper context, according to the council.

Research by consumer organisation Which? used Food Standards Agency to rank the borough 344th out of 395 local authorities in the UK for effectiveness in tackling poor hygiene in food outlets.

But the authority says it has increased resources surrounding enforcement, that inspecting high-risk establishments is a priority and that 34 per cent of businesses improved their rating in the last nine months.

“The clear message to all food businesses in Waltham Forest is that this is not a place where you can get away with poor food safety standards,” said Councillor Clyde Loakes, deputy leader and cabinet member for environment.

“It is important to put these rankings into proper context and it is noticeable that almost half, 16, of all London boroughs were ranked below Waltham Forest on that list, including the neighbouring boroughs of Haringey, Hackney, Newham and Enfield.

“While the list is not very reflective of the huge amount of effective food safety work the council carries out, it perhaps does at least hint at the enormous challenges that diverse and economically challenged authorities face.”

A council spokesman said areas like Waltham Forest have a more difficult time than other less populated areas when it comes to enforcing food safety due to the number of outlets.

Of 1,903 food establishments across the borough Which? found 92.5 per cent were rated for risk by the council while 73.9 of those rated as high- or medium- risk were found “broadly compliant” with regulations.

Cllr Loakes added that food safety standards in the borough are improving.

“Last year we carried out 880 food safety inspections and over 1,800 food safety visits, including inspecting every single higher risk business,” he said.

“Our zero tolerance approach to serious non-compliance has led to 95 improvement notices being issued, five businesses being prosecuted, 12 businesses being closed down until standards have improved, and one operator being prohibited from running a food business over the last two years.”