/ Food & Drink

Valentines Day: don’t give the gift of food poisoning

We’ve got Catriona Stewart from the Food Standards Agency talking about their ‘look before you book’ scheme. If you’re planning a Valentine’s meal, make sure you check the food hygiene rating…

A recent poll we carried out at the Food Standards Agency highlighted Valentine’s Day is one of the most popular days in the year for eating out. It showed that an estimated 77% of us will be marking this special day with a romantic meal.

Of all the things that might go wrong on February 14, 36% of daters told us they’re worried about getting food poisoning and yet only four in 10 said they’ll check the food hygiene rating before booking a table this year.

Lots of effort is put in to checking reviews to find the perfect place with just the right ambiance and great tasting food. For peace of mind, we want people to check that their chosen restaurant meets the grade on food hygiene standards too.

How does the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme work?

The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme is a simple way of finding out. Food outlets in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are given a rating when they are inspected by local authority food safety officers – the ratings range from 0 at the bottom to 5 at the top (a different scheme with similar aims operates in Scotland).

The food safety officer checks different aspects of hygiene performance. This includes hygienic handling of food and the cleanliness and condition of the facilities. It also includes the system and checks in place to manage food safety and help ensure the food served to us is safe to eat. Based on this each business is awarded its food hygiene rating, telling you how seriously the restaurant takes food hygiene.

We’ve created this short video to explain what’s behind the numbers:

Look before you book

If you’re dining out with someone special this Valentine’s, we would urge you to ‘look before you book’ and check the rating. If you haven’t booked, then look out for the green and black ratings sticker in the window. If you don’t see one, you can ask the staff.

Do you check food hygiene ratings when you’re going to eat out? Knowing that you want to impress on Valentine’s Day, would you change your mind about a place if you knew it‘s hygiene standards weren’t up to scratch?

This is a guest post from Catriona Stewart. Head, Compliance & Enforcement Strategy Team, Local Delivery Division at the Food Standards AgencyAll views are Catriona’s own, not necessarily those of Which?


You should expect a restaurant to serve risk-free food as a right, not have to check their hygiene rating. Local Authorities should close down – temporarily initially – establishments that fell below a required standard – that is if the LA do inspect routinely. I suspect most do not and the hygiene rating is only worth it on the day they were visited. Only when poor standards are punished properly – both financially and by suspending business – may we see negligent owners feel that ignoring food hygiene is not a business risk worth taking.

Whilst an initial inspection may be publicly funded it might be more approriate to issue an annual license, paid for by the restaurant owners. Further visits to check remedial actions after an inspection failure should be paid for by the restaurant . We might then be able to support a properly resourced system.

You would’ve thought so, right Malcolm? – there’s nothing romantic about food poisoning.

I check for ratings on the FSA website before eating out and urge others to do the same. It would be a great help to have a proper app for mobile devices rather than just a link to a page on the FSA website.

It is mandatory to display food hygiene ratings in Wales but high time that this was universal. I know that Which? and others are pushing for this.

I am not keen on the pass/fail system used in Scotland because giving a rating of 0 to 5 provides encouragement for establishments to do their best rather than achieve a pass.

The inspection of premises is handled by councils rather than the FSA, and I suspect that some are more conscientious than others. I suspect that Norwich is the only council that puts information about each of its inspection on its website. This helps the anyone who is interested to understand the nature of inspections and why premises are being marked down. I have no idea of the costs involved in making this information available.

I would rather see a Food Hygiene Rating of 5 than a Michelin star.

I would rather have the star. Michelin stars are I believe the result of many years work and therefore show a track record of achievement. I reckon that beats something that may be given to a new restaurant at a point in time – possibly first time.

BTW you may find this one interesting wavechange:

Thanks very much for the article, Dieseltaylor. Very interesting.

My comment about Michelin stars was intended to be provocative. 🙂

We chose an establishment with no scores on the doors, but were able to inspect the loos and kitchen. Had a delicious dinner – scallops on minted pea , perfectly cooked rump steak in pepper sauce, a decent bottle of Rioja, strawberries and chocolate sauce, coffee and chocolates. Cards and presents brought to the table. And all for £20. Alive and well today.