The new system, which will be driven by food safety officers from the local council, will see food establishments rated from one to five, depending on the hygiene rating of their operation. The establishments will be expected to display this rating to the general public on bright green and black food hygiene stickers although this will not be compulsory.
The FSA, in partnership with local authorities, is rolling out its Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS) across England, Wales and Northern Ireland with the aim of reducing the one million cases of food poisoning suffered by people there each year.
Scotland will operate a different system, offering businesses a simple ‘pass’ or ‘fail’.
The FSA has introduced the scheme to help prevent customers ‘gambling’ with their health every time they eat out, according to FSA Chairman Jeff Rooker.
A rating of ‘1’ indicates ‘urgent improvement necessary’ while a rating of ‘5’ indicates that standards are ‘very good’.
A snapshot survey carried out recently for the FSA indicates that more than eight in 10 members of the public (86 per cent) consider hygiene standards to be extremely important when eating out, significantly outweighing other considerations such as price and location.
At least a fifth of people questioned say that when eating out, they had sent food back for hygiene-related reasons such as undercooked poultry (23 per cent) and dirty plates (22 per cent), increasing to around one in three who report sending back undercooked meat (29 per cent).
People interviewed for the FSA research indicate that they primarily judge hygiene standards of places where they eat or buy food on the appearance of an establishment (68 per cent), appearance of staff (44 per cent), cleanliness of toilets (33 per cent) and word-of-mouth/reputation (22 per cent).
‘If customers are looking for a hygiene rating, this will drive businesses to improve their standards,’ commented Jeff Rooker.
The hygiene rating given to a food business will give customers a glimpse into the areas that they don’t normally see, giving them an idea of what’s going on in the kitchen or behind the scenes.
Stickers with a ‘2’ will carry a line stating ‘improvement necessary’ while a ‘3’ score will be considered ‘satisfactory’. A ‘4’ will be considered ‘good’ and a ‘5’ will merit a ‘very good’.
The eating establishments are not required by law to put up their rating in the window but the FSA believes that once the system is established, the public will avoid those outlets which refuse to put up their score.
Jeff Rooker added, “In developing this scheme, we wanted to give people the ability to judge for themselves whether they considered the hygiene standards of a food outlet to be good enough”.
At the same time local councils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will publish all hygiene ratings on their websites. Ratings are available to view at food.gov.uk/ratings.
Some restaurants and supermarkets have reacted negatively to the development, arguing that such a system is unnecessary.
Here in Ireland the FSAI has no plans to develop a similar ‘scores on the doors’ system.