It seems a day doesn’t go by without some horror story about a pub and its hygiene — whether it’s rat droppings in the kitchen, faeces in the vending machine or a mice infestation.
It’s not pretty and with customers’ expectations so high, it can be very damaging to a pub business.
And for any pub found guilty of breaching hygiene regulations, it cannot only cost a reputation but there can be significant financial fines. For example, in June, a Surrey gastropub was hit with a fine in excess of £13,000 for a mouse infestation.
And managed pub operator Mitchells & Butlers was fined £1.5m after a woman died and 30 people were made ill following a Christmas dinner in December 2012 at the Railway in Hornchurch, Essex, after staff failed to follow hygiene safety procedures for cooking turkey.
How can licensees keep on top of hygiene and what are the inspectors looking for?
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) provides a rating scheme for pubs that serve food. It rates the hygiene of the pubs from one to five, with five being the best score.
Christina Ratcliffe, a former food safety officer for more than 25 years, now runs her own business the Food Safety Company, which helps pubs with pre-inspection and pre-opening audits. She warns pubs that they will still face inspection even if they consider themselves ‘non-food’ venues.
“A lot of pubs consider themselves non-food when they serve crisps and drinks. Drinks are classified as food so they will get inspected and will
get a rating,” she says.
Pubs are likely to face inspections every 18 months to two years with the environmental health officers (EHOs) turning up at any time day or evening that is reasonable. They are likely to check the level of cleanliness throughout the business.
“When the officer comes, they will inspect the whole of the premises from the kitchen to the bar to the cellar and any other outbuildings where they might have food stores,” Ratcliffe advises.
On top of that, they will be looking for signs of pests, to see whether the structure of the building is in good order and whether issues such as cellar mould are being tackled.
However, the most important thing is the paperwork to prove the necessary checks are being made. These can include the likes of checking food use-by dates, that areas of the pub have been cleaned, that handwashing materials are available and that dirty cloths are removed.
Paperwork is vital
“No matter how clean the kitchen is or how much money has been spent on the structure or state-of-the art equipment, if there is no paperwork in place, pubs can’t get a four or a five-star rating and would go down to a two,” Ratcliffe says. “The paperwork should reflect what is going on and prove they are doing the checks.
“Don’t think the inspectors are stupid and can’t work out when people have made up records.”
On her current pre-inspections, the most common pub failings are attention to detail on cleaning; paperwork; unused equipment gathering dirt; and lack of stock rotation. These need to be tackled because it is vital that businesses get a good rating as “a business reputation can be ruined within hours”, she warns.
And what if your inspection is not up to standard?
“It is better to play ball with the EHO rather than try to work against them,” she advises. “The inspectors are not daft and they know when
you are telling lies.”
Stuart Yates, marketing manager at Vileda Professional, the cleaning solution business, agrees with those sentiments. He says: “It’s good business sense to work with the officers rather than against them. The guidelines clearly set out what their requirements are and they can help a business establish it’s own cleaning and hygiene programme.”
He says training is key and the cleaning/housekeeping team should be well aware of the schedule and the high standards expected.
Pubs that are unhappy with their ratings do have the right to appeal and ask for it to be re-rated before the next inspection.
According to Damien Sleath, re-search and development manager at the Proton Group, failing to clean the beer lines can result in some unhealthy hygiene.
“You will get a build-up of bacteria that can cause stale tastes and smells. The beer can have a banana taste and can even make the customer feel unwell,” he warns.
Longer-term effects such as build-up of beerstone (calcium oxalate), tannins, yeasts, staining and even mould can occur in the beer lines.
“We recommend that beer lines be cleaned once a week and so do most brewers and suppliers. It should take around two hours and it is an involved process,” he says.
It is not just the frequency but the correct procedures and level of chemicals that need to be used to ensure the lines are cleaned correctly.
“Some places will rely on the staff to do it and, if you have seasonal workers and students, they may not have been shown how to do it properly,” he warns.
He also highlights glassware as a hygiene issue, which also can affect the serve of the drinks and even the head of the beer. It is important that, every three months, a glass renovator is used to remove any build-up on the glassware.
“This means presentation, taste and smell will all be correct,” he says.
So while a good hygiene score can make your pub the most popular venue in town, it can also make your pub the no-go zone in your area.
Yates adds: “If the pub isn’t cleaned to a high standard then it can turn a positive reputation into a truly negative one. And with the popularity of online review sites and social media feedback from customers being immediate, any negativity is out of the control of the establishment.”