It’s happened to many of us. You sit down for a meal in a restaurant and look around, only to realise that the place isn’t as clean as you’d like. You can’t help thinking, if front-of-house is dirty, what will the kitchen be like?
You can see unclean cutlery, unswept floors, perhaps even the odd rodent or two. But other than demanding to inspect a restaurant’s kitchen, and to look out for anything with more than two legs before you pick up your fork, how on earth can you know whether the restaurant’s hygiene is up to scratch?
Well, the Welsh government is planning to make it mandatory for all eating establishments in Wales to have their latest food hygiene scores, awarded by the local authority’s environmental health department, shown clearly on the door.
At the moment displaying ‘Scores on the Doors’ is voluntary in the UK, which generally means that only restaurants with good scores tend to let their customers know about it.
Hurray for hygiene scores
This is an issue we’ve been covering in our magazine for many years. We’ve always thought you should be able to find out how restaurants fared when they were last inspected quickly and easily. Denmark and some US cities have been publishing hygiene scores on restaurant doors for a while and they found it tends toraise standards and leads to fewer people becoming ill.
Many argue that hygiene scores aren’t fair – after all, restaurant managers may become complacent about hygiene once it’s achieved a high-scoring inspection.
But now there’s a national system in place whereby inspections are carried out based on the overall risk of each restaurant and confidence in its management. Scores are allocated on a five point scale, so you can see who’s broadly compliant with hygiene rules and who is excellent or poor. It’s also possible in many cases for a restaurant to request a re-inspection if it thinks its score no longer reflects its standards.
However, there is a danger that paying for frequent hygiene inspections won’t exactly top the list when local councils decide how to allocate their budgets. On the other hand, inspections are required by law and are audited by the Food Standards Agency.
Knowledge is power
Surely more information is a good thing? It’s already helpful that so many councils provide hygiene ratings on their websites. And if you don’t know which council the place you’re eating in is located, the Food Standards Agency has a national site to help you find the score.
So, if the Welsh bill passes, anyone eating out in Wales will be able to easily avoid restaurants with low scores by simply looking at a sticker on the front door. Meanwhile in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, customers will have to rely on a restaurant’s honesty or make a point of going to the website.
At Which?, we’re fully supportive of the Welsh Government’s plans and want to see the system put in place across the UK. Have you ever been to a restaurant with less-than-impressive hygiene, and do you think having scores on the doors would’ve made any difference?