August 14, 2017
The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme Explained
Outbreaks of food poisoning in restaurants and food factories are making headlines in the UK’s press more than ever and, consequently, consumers are increasingly mindful of hygiene practices when eating out.
The Food Standards Agency hygiene ratings scheme allows consumers to check how well businesses serving, manufacturing or selling food have performed in hygiene inspections.
What is the scheme for?
The scheme exists so that consumers can find out about the hygiene standards in restaurants, pubs and cafés, as well as in premises that manufacture or sell food.
The scheme is operated by the Food Standards Agency in partnership with local authorities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is these local authorities who organise and executive hygiene inspections, as well as advising how improvements could be made and publishing scores on the FSA website.
How are food hygiene ratings calculated?
An Environmental Health Officer’s objective is to ensure that the business being examined meets the standards set out by law. According to the FSA’s guide on the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme, this is based on several different factors, including:
Methods of food handling
Food hygiene and safety procedures
The cleanliness of the premises
The level of compliance in the business, especially in relation to the hygiene training that food handlers receive.
The presence of a documented food safety management system (such as HACCP).
The conditions of the buildings (both internal and external) in terms of layout, ventilation, pest prevention etc.
These factors form part of three standards: hygiene, structure and confidence in management - which are scored on a scale of 0-30 (with 0 being the ‘best’ score and 30 being the worst). The inspector then looks at the levels of compliance within the business and any risk to public health and provides a final score. The inspector will also suggest actions for the food business operator (FBO) and the local authority (LA) . In establishments with a perfect score, no suggestions will be made however, in those requiring improvement, the FBO will be told to address any issues raised and the LA will be asked to execute enforcement actions such as a letter or re-inspection.
What types of food businesses are rated?
Ratings are given to businesses who supply food directly to consumers. This can be products consumed on-premises (as with a café, pub or restaurant) or products that are consumed off-site (for example, a shop selling pre-packaged food or a food-to-go/takeaway outlet). This also includes businesses that are not solely food-based, including but not limited to schools, care homes, army barracks and guesthouses.
How to get a food hygiene rating
If you register and open a new food-based establishment, your rating will be listed as ‘awaiting inspection’ until an Environmental Health Officer (EHO) inspects your premises and gives you a rating. You will be contacted in time by your local authority to arrange this inspection. However, if you feel your hygiene practices are running at a very high standard in your new business, you may want to take a proactive approach and get in touch with your local authority to request an inspection. After all, an outstanding hygiene score is a great way to attract customers to your new business.
Food hygiene rating scores
There are a total of 6 possible ratings, ranging from 0-5. But what do each of these ratings actually mean?
Food hygiene rating 5 meaning
Very good. Meeting or exceeding legal requirements.
Food hygiene rating 4 meaning
Good. Only some minor non-compliances not critical to food safety.
Food hygiene rating 3 meaning
Generally satisfactory. Evidence of some non-compliance not critical to food safety.
Food hygiene rating 2 meaning
Improvement necessary. Some major non-compliance.
Food hygiene rating 1 meaning
Major improvement necessary. Major and widespread non-compliance.
Food hygiene rating 0 meaning
Urgent improvement necessary. Almost total non-compliance.
What does an ‘exempt’ rating mean?
If an establishment does not supply food directly to the public or is considered very low-risk (for example, a leisure center only with food vending machines) then they are excluded from the scope of businesses requiring an inspection and rating. Businesses that offer caring services at home, for example a childminder, are also excluded. However, these businesses will still be inspected by the local authority, they will just not receive a rating.
Should consumers look up these types of businesses on the FSA database an ‘exempt’ hygiene rating will be displayed.
How long does a rating last?
Ratings do not expire but are always based on the most recent inspection. How often your premises is inspected by the local authority depends on a variety of factors.
For example, businesses selling both raw and cooked foods will be inspected more frequently because there is a greater risk to public health should there be hygiene failings in these establishments.
The frequency for routine inspections varies from every 6 months to every 2 years. Obviously this also depends on findings from previous hygiene inspections - a business identified as in need of improvement will be inspected more frequently to check that action has been taken. The owner of the business can also request a reinspection themselves if they feel practices have improved enough to warrant a new hygiene rating.
In addition to routine inspections, a food hygiene inspector may visit a premises in response to a complaint from a member of the public. Bear in mind that food safety officers have the right to enter your premises unannounced at any reasonable hour.
Appeal a food hygiene rating
If you feel that the score awarded to your business was unfair, you can appeal it. To do this you must complete a standard appeal form from the FSA (available here) and send it by post or email to the Lead Officer for Food at your local authority.
This must be done within 21 days of receiving the letter informing you of your rating. It’s also advisable to get in touch with the food safety officer who inspected your premises for an informal chat, where they can let you know how your rating was worked out.
Food hygiene rating scheme ‘right to reply’
You also have the ‘right to reply’ to the score your business has been given. Here you can state actions you have taken since the inspection to make the improvements needed - which are stated in the letter you receive informing you of your rating. If your business was subject to any mitigating circumstances at the time of the inspection, you can also use the ‘right to reply’ form to outline these. This is not a form to complain about your rating or the food safety officer that carried out your inspection.
This will then be published online alongside your food hygiene rating on the FSA’s database, so consumers can see your reply and make an educated decision on whether to visit your business.
How to get a 5 star food hygiene rating
Given that hygiene officers can turn up at your business without any prior warning, it’s a good idea to be audit-ready every day. This means ensuring every aspect of your business meets or goes beyond the requirements set out by the Food Standards Agency. Some ways you can do this includes:
Making sure all fixtures, fittings and equipment are fit-for-purpose with regular cleaning and maintenance.
Making sure all of your food-handling staff have received the appropriate basic food hygiene training. A quick way to demonstrate this is by having employees undertake a food hygiene course - the most typical for food handlers is Level 2 food hygiene training. Your employees will then receive a food hygiene certificate and you will have documentation to prove they have received training.
Make sure you have an effective food safety management system in place, such as HACCP. Be sure to document any incidents requiring corrective action and to review the system you have on a regular basis.
Ensure that your managers and supervisors are fully competent in upholding hygiene standards and maintaining your HACCP-based system.
It’s a good idea it inspect your premises as if your were a food safety officer on a regular basis, so you can identify any areas that require improvement. We’ve created a Hygiene Inspection Checklist that you can use to make sure your establishment achieves the best rating possible. Download it here or click on the preview below.
What is Scores on the Doors?
Score on the Doors is a database of 521,890 premises in the UK including restaurants, take-aways, pubs, shops and more. It allows consumers to search for businesses based on fragments of information (for example, part of a name or town) and look up the hygiene ratings of businesses matching these parameters.
The Food Hygiene Rating Sticker
Local authorities no longer issue food hygiene rating certificates. Instead you can request a sticker to be displayed on your premises. You can find out how to do this here.
As of 2019, it will become mandatory for all businesses selling or serving food for public consumption to display their hygiene rating sticker somewhere clearly visible on their premises.