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A day in the life of North East Lincolnshire Port Health officers: What is it and why is it so important?

11:00 am, Sunday, 10th March 2024 - 4 months ago

Trading Standards

Port Health is a term many will not have heard before, let alone understand. However, it’s an important job not just in North East Lincolnshire, but across the country.

The main function of Port Health is to inspect incoming and outgoing vessels and their cargo to ensure people’s safety and the UK’s biosecurity, by ensuring public, animal and environmental health requirements are met. From one day to the next, teams carry out a number of tasks, dependent on the product.

What makes North East Lincolnshire so special though is that the Council acts as both a port health authority for Grimsby & Immingham and an inland authority for the whole borough, one of only a handful of authorities that do. Grimsby and Immingham docks, situated on the South Humber Gateway of the Humber Estuary, is the busiest shipping estuary in the UK with approximately 40,000 vessel movements per annum.

At the current Border Control Post (BCP), based on Grimsby Docks they inspect frozen fish imports from non-EU countries, which mainly arrive into Immingham by container and are generally destined for Grimsby cold stores, factories and wholesalers. Following the UK’s exit from the EU, there has been a need to introduce import checks on EU origin cargo, because free movement of goods between the UK and the EU has now ended. 

A Port Health Support Officer removing a product for inspection

After a number of delays to introduction, the phased implementation of the UK’s new Border Target Operating Model began on 31st January this year, with the next major milestone being 30th April 2024, when documentary, identity and physical checks of EU imports start.

The Grimsby BCP will not be able to accommodate checks on a much greater range of imports currently arriving into Immingham, which include fresh meat and fish, dairy & egg products, honey, as well as animal products not intended for human consumption like animal feed, oils and untreated wool.  There will also be some high-risk food & feed not of animal origin to check, like certain nuts, spices and rice from specific countries which can be contaminated with harmful substances.

To maintain that existing trade flow, as well as potentially open the Humber to other kinds of non-EU imports, the port operator Associated British Ports (ABP) has constructed a purpose-built multi-use BCP facility at Immingham, which will see NELC’s Port Health operation working alongside Border Force and Plant Health Inspectors from April onwards.

From checking temperatures of fish, sampling farmed prawns for pesticides to ensuring stock leaving Grimsby is securely packaged, officers jobs cover a wide range of tasks with public health and safety a main priority.

Before arriving into the docks, the team will assess a number of documents to prepare the consignments for further inspection. Once the paperwork check is completed, the goods are taken to the Border Control Post on Grimsby docks.

Port Health Support Officer Jane Burnham inspecting a consignment of frozen fish

Here, Port Health Support Officers have to check the paperwork against the goods before opening up the trailer to check what’s inside. On a daily basis, the Port Health team can check between 20 to 25 deliveries – well over £1m of seafood each day.

After taking a sample from the container, the goods are moved to the testing area when they can be subject to a range of checks, including temperature and condition.

Rachel Hearson, an Environmental Health Officer and Official Fish Inspector, said: “We have to check all sorts from making sure the date it’s caught on the box matches the date on the documents to the obvious checks like making sure what’s in the box is what it should be.

“After all the checks are complete, we can sign it off on our Government Gateway and then it can be released to wherever in the country it’s going.”

She added: “However, if the consignment is not right and fails UK legal requirements, we can reject it and stop it from going to shops and suppliers. It’s then stored in our refrigeration unit where it’s often shipped back to where it came from or sometimes it can be sold as pet food depending on the problem.  Occasionally goods will have to be destroyed”

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