Most restaurants and takeaways in have satisfactory ratings for food hygiene standards – but what happens when they score zero?
We would all like to think that restaurants, cafes and takeaways are perfectly safe, but unfortunately that’s not always the case.
And while diners can make a basic assessment of an eatery’s hygiene standards by looking at the surroundings, the staff and the menu, the Food Standard Agency (FSA) ratings system allows you to get a glimpse into the kitchen for a better indication.
So look out for the green and black stickers indicating an establishment’s rating, and if you can’t see one, just ask a member of staff.
How often are inspections carried out?
Local authorities are responsible for ensuring that businesses have safe levels of food safety, and inspections are carried out based on risk to the public.
Food businesses that pose a higher risk are inspected more often. So a restaurant or takeaway will be inspected more frequently than a small retailer selling a range of prepacked foods that only need to be refrigerated.
The time between inspections can vary from six months for the highest risk businesses to two years for lower risk businesses.
For some very low risk businesses, the interval between inspections may be longer than two years, with some exceptions.
Local authorities can also monitor businesses between inspections, and if these checks reveal anything suspicious, the officer will carry out an inspection.
Also, if the local authority receives a complaint or new information about a business that they are not due to inspect, and this suggests hygiene standards are not being maintained, they will investigate and may inspect the business and give it a new hygiene rating.
How are food outlets judged on hygiene?
Businesses that serve food are judged on three criteria:
- How hygienically the food is handled – how it is prepared, cooked, re-heated, cooled and stored.
- The condition of the structure of the buildings – the cleanliness, layout, lighting, ventilation and other facilities
- How the business manages and records what it does to make sure food is safe.
What do the ratings mean?
The ratings system is simple to understand:
5 – hygiene standards are very good
4 – hygiene standards are good
3 – hygiene standards are generally satisfactory
2 – some improvement is necessary
1 – major improvement is necessary
0 – urgent improvement is required
What happens if a business gets a zero-rating?
In short, the local authority has the power to close a business if it poses a health risk to the public.
The food safety officer has several enforcement options available, as well as giving advice and guidance to make sure these improvements are made.
They will also tell the business how quickly these improvements must be made and this will depend on the type of issue that needs to be addressed.
But if the officer finds that a business’s hygiene standards are very poor and there is an imminent risk to public health, when food may be unsafe to eat, the officer must act to ensure consumers are protected.
This could result in stopping part of the business or closing it down completely until it is safe to reopen.
Which is good peace of mind for consumers wary of what goes on behind the closed doors of the kitchen.