Finding a restaurant with good food hygiene credentials is, according to our investigation, a postcode lottery. As the most improved area, here’s Alan of Newark and Sherwood council on the changes they’ve made.
In order to increase the number of broadly compliant premises in the Newark and Sherwood area, we have taken some very simple but effective steps.
The first was to identify those premises that yo-yoed between compliance and non-compliance. These were targeted with a range of interventions, including an in-depth analysis of the compliance issues, guidance on how long-term improvements could be made, and low cost training for staff.
We have also implemented a scheme of agile working which allows our staff increased flexibility to visit premises, such as in early mornings and evenings to coincide with the opening hours of some premises.
The steps we have taken are not ground breaking but small improvements across a number of areas can give big improvements in overall performance. It’s good that Which? is raising awareness of the issue so that other local authorities can make similar improvements.
Working in Environmental Health
Having worked in Environmental Health for more years than I care to remember I am still surprised that there’s a lack of understanding about the role Environmental Health Departments play in food safety.
Quite often the response from friends and family is ’I didn’t realise you did that’ or more commonly ‘I bet you have seen some sights, I’m surprised that you ever go out to eat’. At this stage I don’t bore them by stating that within my local authority area around 96% of food premises are broadly compliant with food legislation, instead I dredge up the details of some long forgotten inspection, add some exaggerated details about what the chef was doing with the cake tongs and then with a wry smile I say ‘and the thing is, you never know what’s going on behind those kitchen doors.’
What’s going on behind kitchen doors?
My question to you is; ‘do consumers know what’s going on behind the kitchen doors?’. On entering food premises what clues are available for you to make a judgement on the standards of food safety? Many will look at the decoration, the cleanliness and maybe the attitude of the staff. These factors can be an indication but equally they can be misleading. There has been many an establishment that have spent all their budget on front of house and left the kitchen staff to prepare food on some of the worst conditions imaginable.
How about the quality of the food as an indicator? Unfortunately good food doesn’t mean safe food. The advent of low temperature cooking methods such as sous vide and the trend towards serving rare meats, particularly burgers, increases the opportunities for things to go wrong. Ten years ago most diners would send a burger back if it was served rare, now it is sent back if it is overcooked.
Deciding where’s safe to eat
So what is my advice to help you decide where to eat? There is only one method, look for the sticker on the door. I don’t mean the Michelin stars or the AA rosettes, I mean the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme.
You will see this on every food premise, or will you? You will probably see it on all the 4 and 5 rated premises, maybe some 3 but rarely on anything lower than this. Why not, because the law doesn’t require them to display their rating. Should it? Would you like to see all ratings displayed?
You can check a rating from the Food Standards Agency website, but surely displaying at the point of service is a better option?
This is a guest post by Alan Batty, Business Manager, Environmental Health at Newark and Sherwood District Council. All opinions are Alan’s own, not necessarily those of Which?