Pubs may soon need an additional licence to serve food if the Government listens to calls from health officials.
The news follows a Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) study that showed more than half of all Britain's food outlets failed basic hygiene tests.
The results have sparked fury from health officials who have called for radical changes to be made. In addition to calls for a basic licence they have suggested a five-star ratings system for pubs, restaurants, cafes and burger vans in an attempt to drive up standards.
At the moment anyone can sell food to the public without a licence or qualification but these proposals would mean that all food outlets would have to meet an approved standard of hygiene before being allowed to trade.
More than 4.5million people suffered from food poisoning last year alone, a CIEH spokeswoman said.This figure has encouraged the institute to call for the changes.
She said: "We need to protect the consumer, and a licensing scheme would ensure the highest possible standards."
The Consumers' Association has added its voice to the calls. It also wants a hygiene-rating system that compares food outlets, allowing the public to make informed choices.
But the trade is critical of the plans.
Tony Payne, chief executive of the Federation of Licensed Victuallers Associations (FLVA), said that he thought the report findings were misrepresentative and added that there was no need to introduce licensing for all food outlets.
"Pubs are regularly inspected by environmental health officers," Mr Payne said. "There's no need to introduce a licence on top of this."
He also said it would be impossible and unfair to implement a ratings system for pubs serving food, comparing them to restaurants and other outlets.
A spokesman for the Food Standards Agency hinted that the licensing of all food premises was likely in the future but added that for the time being it was the responsibility of the local authorities to ensure that standards were upheld in all food outlets in their area.