/ Food & Drink, Health

Are you winning the food hygiene postcode lottery?

A dirty plate with knife and fork

Our research has found that food hygiene has become something of a postcode lottery for diners. People are unknowingly taking risks with their health simply by choosing to eat out in the wrong area.

We’ve been crunching through tens of thousands of food hygiene ratings from the Food Standards Agency in more than 2,000 postcodes in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. And now we’re revealing the postcodes where bad ratings far outweigh the good.

All places that serve food are inspected and given a hygiene rating on a six point scale – zero being the worst and five the best. A rating of three is ‘generally satisfactory’.

The best and worst food hygiene ratings

Eateries inspected in the DA7 postcode in Bexley averaged a rating of just 2.6. In fact, almost half the premises inspected in this particular postcode area had a score of two or less. By contrast, Birmingham’s B35 postcode topped the table with a near-perfect average rating of 4.9.

The scores for big high-street chains were typically three or above – that is ‘generally satisfactory’ or better. But some chains had a greater proportion of branches with poor ratings than others.

For instance, 29% of Chicken Cottage branches, 26% of Dixy Chicken branches and 24% of Perfect Pizza branches inspected had ratings of three or less. In the restaurant category, one in five La Tasca outlets inspected had a rating less than ‘generally satisfactory’, while one in seven Little Chefs inspected had low ratings.

A number of convenience stores serving food were also rated – of those inspected, a fifth of Best In/One, Costcutter, Premier and Londis outlets were rated less than three.

However, some major chains received no poor scores at all, including Eat, Carluccio’s, Zizzi, Premier Inn and Marriot Hotels.

Do hygiene ratings affect where you eat?

In our survey, three quarters of you told us you’d avoid eating at places with a rating lower than three. But it’s not always easy to tell the rating of an eatery, as they aren’t obliged to publicly display their ratings.

At Which?, we think that any places serving food should display their hygiene score prominently – and 95% of people we surveyed agreed. At present, if eateries don’t display their score voluntarily, the only way to find out is by searching on the Food Standards Agency website.

Before carrying out this research, I have to admit I’d never really considered checking a restaurant’s hygiene rating before visiting. Do you check hygiene scores before you eat out? Do you think places that serve food should be obliged to display their hygiene ratings?

Sharma Guness says:
12 July 2013

Thank you, in progress, I will report back when we have completed our investigation here.

Jason B says:
26 September 2013

I am an independent event caterer and work all over the country and get inspected at many events through the year, my view is –
The Food Hygiene rating system is not about hygiene at all it is about how much paperwork you do and if it is done to the liking of the Food safety officer (EHO) visiting at the time.
Different areas and EHO’s all interpret this differently.
There may be framework to try and have a national standard but as this is understood or not as the case may be differently by every EHO then the national standard does not exist.

Having eaten at a prominent restaurant in Leeds that had glowing feedback on TripAdvisor, I checked the Food Hygiene Rating afterwards. I was horrified to find it had a rating of 1 out of 5. The restaurant claimed the rating was due to a single incident by an inexperienced staff member during the inspection. I used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain a copy of the inspection report that was carried out just a couple of weeks before my visit and find many systematic failings such as cross contamination of food, poor storage, lack of hygiene among staff, under cooked meat, lack of washing facilities, etc, etc.
I feel it should be compulsory to display Food Hygiene grading at the entrance to all food establishments so an informed choice can be made before eating there. I believe it is mandatory in Wales and a check on the website suggests this has a huge impact on ratings compared with England.

I check the ratings before I eat out and encourage friends to do the same. The Food Standards Agency now has a phone app to make it easier to check ratings.

I would be interested to know if Which? is pushing for display of Food Hygiene Ratings to be compulsory in England, as is the case in Wales.