Back in 2010 the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme launched. It was a revolutionary approach to provide the public with more information on food hygiene standards within food outlets. While the public had some awareness of food safety, it very much went on behind closed doors and there was an assumption food safety standards were being maintained. An earlier scheme known as Scores on The Doors was launched in 2005, however this scheme was not rolled out across all local authorities, and it did not have the “official” backing of the Food Standards Agency.

Although the public were able to request copies of inspection reports through the Freedom of Information Act, this is a clunky and difficult method of obtaining information on the level of food hygiene for a restaurant. It often takes weeks to receive a response to a Freedom of Information request. Not something you can quickly do before heading out to eat.

The introduction of the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme allowed the public to quickly check ratings on premises. Local authorities gradually signed up to the scheme, with Rutland being the last to join in 2016.

As of today, over 500,000 businesses are listed. Food businesses are given ratings ranging from 0 to 5. The vast majority of food businesses hold a rating of 4 or 5 (Good and Very Good). Research by the Food Standards Agency has shown that gradually levels of compliance have improved over time. Local papers regularly cover poor Food Hygiene Ratings and businesses do not want to be the focus of a news story on poor food safety standard. For the newspapers its an easy story – the data is publicly accessible and everyone loves a story about a grotty takeaway. For businesses this drives the importance of food safety even higher – no one want’s their reputation tarnished by a poor Food Hygiene Rating.

In addition, businesses like Just Eat have put a big focus on Food Hygiene Ratings more recently. This is very much in response to the public’s concern of ordering from food businesses that they may not be familiar with. Gone are the days of having a nosy in the kitchen while waiting for your order, most takeaway food is now ordered from the comfort of your own home on an app or website. Just Eat have made the Food Hygiene Ratings of all food businesses listed on the site mandatory, and are gradually kicking off food businesses with poor Food Hygiene Ratings. They have also committed significant sums of money to support their Restaurant Partners in improving their Food Hygiene Ratings.

Businesses in Wales and Northern Ireland are now required to display their Food Hygiene Rating (or at least they are if they have received their rating after the legislation came in to force). Businesses have been fined for not displaying their rating. While displaying of ratings in England remains optional, the Food Standards Agency are gradually pushing for mandatory display – although Brexit and Covid-19 may have thrown a spanner in the works on the progress of this.

Recent research from the Food Standards Agency show that within England, Wales and Northern Ireland the display of the Food Hygiene Ratings is continuing to increase. Levels of display are as follows:

  • 55% of establishments in England
  • 87% of establishments in Northern Ireland
  • 89% of establishments in Wales

Perhaps unsurprisingly, within England the vast majority of businesses with a Food Hygiene Rating of 5 are displaying their rating. 73% of those with a rating of 5 are displaying their rating compared to 31% with a rating of 3 and 26% of those that have a rating of 0-2. The number of those that are displaying their rating of 0-2 is perhaps a little confusing – I don’t really see why a business would display a poor rating in England, given that display is optional.

The Royal Society of Public Health listed the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme as number 13 on its list of Top 20 Public Health Achievements of the 21st Century. It is clear to see that the scheme has been successful, the vast number of the public recognise the green and black stickers displayed on the doors of most food businesses. The scheme should go on well in to the future continuing to raise the public’s awareness of food safety when eating out.

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