/ Food & Drink

How safe is your food?

A dirty plate with knife and fork

One year on from the horsemeat scandal have food standards changed? Our latest investigation reveals there’s a huge variation in standards as we highlight the best and poorest performing local authorities…

We expect the food we buy to be safe. Food hygiene is important as food that isn’t handled or cooked properly can lead to contamination or pest infestation. In turn this can lead to illness or, in extreme cases, death.

In our latest investigation we looked at data collected by the Food Standards Agency and used this to rank 395 local authorities for their performance on food safety enforcement. And the results were worrying as local food checks were shown to be in decline.

Cheers for Cherwell, boos for Bexley

The best performing 10 local authorities in the UK were Cherwell, Brentwood, Basingstoke & Dean, Eden, Pendle, Ballymena, Ribble Valley, Rossendale, High Peak and Maldon.

In Cherwell, in the South East, all new food businesses had been visited and assessed for their risk, all planned interventions had been achieved and 97.6% of high- and medium-risk businesses were compliant (scoring 3 and above stars on the hygiene rating scheme).

The worst 10 local authorities in the UK were: Bexley, Ealing, Medway, West Dunbartonshire, Wycombe, Harrow, Richmond upon Thames, Southwark, Moyle and Enfield.

In Bexley, London – the worst performing local authority in the UK – 80.2% of new businesses had been visited, 87% of interventions had been achieved but only 57.3% of businesses were scoring 3 and above stars in the hygiene rating scheme.

Displaying hygiene ratings upfront

You can check to see if a restaurant is compliant with food hygiene by checking its hygiene rating score. In Wales, all food businesses have to display their hygiene ratings by law. Northern Ireland is also proposing to make display mandatory and Scotland has consulted on extending powers to enable this. However, in England there are no plans for mandatory display.

We want to see it become mandatory across the UK for restaurants to display their hygiene ratings. This way you’ll be able to see at a glance whether the place you plan to eat in is hygienic or not. At present you’d need to check online before choosing your venue – which is not very practical when you’re out and about.

We’re calling on the Government, Food Standards Agency and local authorities to take action. We want to ensure there’s a joined up approach for action that makes the best use of local authorities’ resources and shares expertise. Threats to the food supply chain need to be better anticipated and consumer needs put first with tougher sanctions for those who fail to comply.

Do you check the hygiene rating of restaurants before you eat out? Have you encountered issues with food hygiene and reported it to your local authority in the past?

Do you check restaurant hygiene ratings before you eat out?

No, never (37%, 477 Votes)

Yes, sometimes (25%, 319 Votes)

No, but I will from now on (23%, 298 Votes)

Yes, all the time (15%, 195 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,289

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Comments
Member

I stopped eating meat back-end of last year. I even had a Quorn xmas dinner. Not sure if it’s anything to-do with the horsemeat or not. I just found it hard to carry on eating animals.

Bella my baby girl still eats meat. But she has too 🙂

Member

I don’t think I have ever seen a food hygiene rating below 3 displayed at any premises. I do check before eating out and encourage friends to do the same. Those establishments with a poor rating should have to pay for reinspection.

If it is mandatory to display food hygiene ratings in Wales, then why not in the rest of the UK?

Member

One of the problems with the hygiene ratings is that some councils are seriously behind in their inspection programme and the “scores on the doors” can be misleading about the current standard of hygiene. A 3 rating might have been compliant at the time of the inspection, indeed it might well have been borderline because the inspectors gave some words of encouragement for better practice and the proprietor promised to take them on board, but standards might have slipped between then and now. I refuse to go anywhere with a score lower than four and if the rating is not displayed then I assume the establishment is not satisfactory. I am not sure how easy it is for a conscientious restaurateur to have a re-inspection carried out to recognise improvements made since the previous inspection; equally, do councils look out for, or react to concerns about, a decline in standards at an establishment or does it carry on until the next programmed inspection? I assume that local authorities prioritise their inspections so that scrutiny is focussed to where it is most critical, but they need to be up-to-date and even-handed overall because some of the reputable national chains which generally have good scores need to be kept up to the mark at a local level. Ideally, no more than thirteen months should pass between inspections and the ratings notices on the premises should be updated following every inspection. A large font over-print of the month/year, or a distinctive coloured bar across the notice would help.

Member

I am glad you have looked at the performance of the local authorities and highlighted the best and worst performers. The sure way to raise standards in food establishments is to have a thorough inspection and enforecement regime and those councils that are delinquent in this need to be hauled over the coals because they are failing in their statutory duty of public protection. This is more important than distributing free newsletters to residents, putting up Christmas lights, and having an annual mayoral banquet [don’t go there – poor hygiene!]. With eating-out on a knife-edge due to the recession, and the high turnover of catering staff and over-reliance on casual labour, it is vital that proper food safety inspections are carried out efficiently and regularly. One thing this system does allow for is the role of the local authority to be examined in the event of a food poisoning or contamination incident; unfortunately, the local council is probably the prosecuting authority and will obviously not put its own lethargy up as Exhibit B. Maybe the Food Standards Agency should have an over-riding power to take action against an authority that has been negligent in maintaining standards.

Member

I live in Norwich and have just discovered my favourite takeaway store has a ZERO rating. I was wondering why the takeaway was not displaying their score while other takeaways in the same street were. When I had a look on-line on the Food Standard Agency’s website I was shocked to discover their zero rating. I will definitely not be getting anything more from them and will not be surprised if they are not in business in a year’s time.

Member

Hi Wood Greener. You will find that Norwich City Council has an excellent food hygiene section on its website detailing all the establishments [which you can aceess by various classifications] and giving lots of data and access to the actual inspection reports. This also shows how up-to-date the inspections are.

Member

Thanks for the information. I have just had a look at the Norwich City website on hygiene. Have now also learnt my local bakery has a ZERO rating too. The inspectors report for that establishment was not a nice read!

Member

Norwich City Council is to be commended for making detailed reports about inspection of establishments available online.

What concerns me is that in these reports a frequent criticism is failure to use materials such as anti-bacterial sprays on surfaces. I expect that most of us know that it is not necessary to use these products in the home to avoid food poisoning. There are also good reasons why anti-bacterial products are best avoided in day-to-day use, though the manufacturers try to convince us that they are essential.