From November this year it will be mandatory for the 23,000 food outlets in Wales to display their Food Hygiene Rating Scheme sticker. The scheme, which replaced the old ‘Scores on the Doors’ system in 2012, awards a hygiene rating of zero (urgent improvement needed) to 5 (very good) to food businesses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, following inspection by a Local Authority Food Safety Officer. Businesses in Scotland have a slightly different scheme called the Food Hygiene Information Scheme. Like the FHRS scheme, this is also run in partnership with the FSA, but rather than a rating of 0 to 5, premises are given a ‘Pass’ or ‘Improvement Required.’
What happens during a FHRS inspection?
During the FHRS inspection, an officer assesses how hygienically food is handled – i.e. how it is prepared, cooked, re-heated, cooled and stored. He/she also inspects the condition of the structure of the buildings including how clean things are, the layout, lighting, ventilation and other facilities. Additionally, how a business manages and records what it does to ensure food is safe is taken into consideration.
Good food hygiene ratings give consumers confidence
Currently the display of FHRS stickers is not compulsory, although those who have achieved a rating of 4 or 5 are generally proud to display their sticker in a prominent position as it gives their customers the reassurance that they are eating at premises where food hygiene standards are high. Research by the Food Standards Agency revealed that the majority of consumers are happy to purchase and eat food from an establishment with a rating of 3 and above. Indeed high rating outlets displaying stickers are finding it is having a positive effect on business as people are now actively looking for the stickers when choosing to dine out.
On the back of this, the FSA has now produced an online ‘How to’ guide offering ideas about how to promote the hygiene standards to increase the number of customers ordering face-to-face or online. This includes promoting your rating on flyers, adverts, websites and web banners, email signatures, menus and communicating your rating via social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
Exposing poor hygiene practices can only be a good thing
Those achieving low scores would seemingly rather keep quiet about the fact and don’t display their ratings. However in a few weeks’ time Welsh offenders will no longer be able to hide… Forcing companies to display stickers can only be a good thing for food hygiene standards in general. Those who are found to be lacking by rights should see their customer levels fall and galvanise them into action to ensure that their food preparation, storage and premises are safe. Under the scheme, any company with a low score is entitled to re-inspection within three months and Local Authority Food Safety Officers are on hand to offer advice to bring the hygiene up to acceptable standards.
Unless a food outlet is open plan, with the preparation areas clearly visible, customers rarely get to see what goes on in the kitchen. So the requirement to prominently display the food hygiene ratings will expose those companies where the front of house looks clean but it’s a different story behind the scenes.
Basic food safety training is essential
It was reported on the BBC news in July this year that 1 in 5 food businesses in Leicester were rated poorly for hygiene standards – achieving between 0 and 2. Many of those were found to be cutting corners, but essentially they lacked basic food safety and hygiene training, which is a legal requirement for all personnel involved in the preparation of food for public consumption.
Leicester is just one such example, but there are several other areas where food hygiene standards are poor. Basic Level 2 Food Safety training costs very little, especially if undertaken online, but the consequences of having inadequate hygiene and food safety practices will cost far more – for a business owner this could be a hefty fine or even a prison sentence. For the consumer the cost could be illness from food poisoning, or in extreme cases could be fatal.
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