How Are The Ratings Decided?
The scheme is run by local authorities in partnership with the Food Standards Agency. The rating is to help you know what's going on in the kitchen or behind closed doors. The Environmental Health Officer who visits checks how well a business is meeting the law with regard to food hygiene, cleanliness of the premises and confidence in management. Zero is the worst rating and five is the best.
It covers all food outlets where you can eat or shop for food including restaurants, pubs, cafés, takeaways, hotels and other places you eat, as well as supermarkets and other food shops. It includes schools, hospitals and residential care homes although I've not seen the ratings displayed at any of those establishments. One of the more unusual places to be on the list, I saw Zippos Circus food stand had been inspected and was pleased to see they received, and displayed, a 5 rating. I generally only see the rating sticker displayed at cafes and restaurants but wish supermarkets did display them as I've just discovered my local shop has a 1 rating which means 'major improvement necessary'.
Surely a Low Rating Should Mean Closure?
You would think so, wouldn't you, but no. Businesses given ratings of '0' or '1' are informed they must make urgent or major improvements to hygiene standards but they will not have to close.
The hope is that people will talk and made a conscious decision not to buy food from a business with a low rating. Yet, my local food shop has a 1 and is incredibly popular as no-one seems to know about the rating.
You can search for food businesses and their hygiene ratings at ratings.food.gov.uk.
If you can't find a rating it may be that the business doesn't need to be inspected as places that you wouldn’t normally think of as a food business – for example, newsagents, chemist shops or visitor centres selling tins of biscuits, and childminders and businesses that offer caring services at home, are exempt.
Once you start searching it is quite addictive as you start wondering why the local garage that has a microwave for pasties can achieve a high rating when your local 'posh' restaurant can't.