Food safety

‘Negative disadvantage’ for pubs forced to display hygiene ratings

By Nicholas Robinson

- Last updated on GMT

Safety standards: are you for or against displaying your hygiene ratings?
Safety standards: are you for or against displaying your hygiene ratings?

Related tags Food standards agency

English food-serving pubs forced to display the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) hygiene ratings may suffer and those with lower scores will face a negative disadvantage, a trade boss has warned.

The stark warning from the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) follows reports of the FSA’s plans to make the currently voluntary Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS) – also known as the ‘scores on the doors’ scheme – mandatory across all food-serving sites in England.

Yesterday, The Morning Advertiser ​(MA​) revealed the Government’s plans to enforce the display of hygiene ratings in pubs​ and other eateries as soon as possible. The scheme rates an operation’s food hygiene on a scale of zero stars to five, with zero being the lowest.

FSA plans to make pubs display their hygiene ratings were lambasted by the ALMR, on the grounds a pub displaying a pass rating of less than five, so a three, for example, may suffer a “negative association”.

Chief executive Kate Nicholls told MA​: “The ALMR opposes mandatory displays for businesses because any contentious decisions can have a significant negative effect for pubs that can last for much longer than any perceived source of that decision."

Danger fear

She continued: “The score checks and audits process, yet there is a danger that customers may associate the score with the quality of food.

What the stars mean:

  • 0: ​Urgent improvement necessary
  • 1: ​Major improvement necessary
  • 2: ​Improvement necessary
  • 3: ​Generally satisfactory
  • 4: ​Good
  • 5: ​Very good

“Any disputed decisions would have to be shown, which would place the pub at a disadvantage. There is no clear process in place to undertake rapid reviews and smaller venues may struggle to keep up with the process.”

Operators in Wales and Ireland already have to display their hygiene ratings.

It wasn’t the intention of the scheme to debilitate a business, an FSA spokeswoman outlined to MA​, and highlighted that most pubs have good standards of hygiene.

Almost 95% of pubs achieve a hygiene rating of three (generally satisfactory) or better. For instance, more than 82% achieve a rating of four (good) or five (very good).

“The FHRS helps people choose where to eat out by giving information about hygiene standards,” the spokeswoman said.

“It’s not easy to judge these standards on the appearance of the premises and even ‘high-end’ businesses can have issues with hygiene. The rating, which is based on an inspection by a local authority food safety officer gives people an idea of what’s going on in the kitchen and the things they can’t see, like germs spread by bad hygiene practices.”

By having to show their hygiene ratings, businesses would be encouraged to improve. Pubs could appeal a rating if they believed it was wrong, she added.

Appeal within 21 days

Pubs looking to contest a rating would have to make an appeal within 21 days of receiving a score. The disputed rating would not be published until the outcome of an appeal is determined.

If a food business makes the improvements a food safety officer told them about at the inspection, they can ask for the rating to be reassessed, MA ​understands. An unannounced revisit will usually take place within three months of the request.

However, a severe lack of local authority resources, as a result of dramatic government budget cuts over the years, is expected to change the way the FHRS operates.

Last month MA reported FSA plans to change the way it polices​ hygiene rating activity by working closer with food businesses.

For instance, pub group Mitchells & Butlers was currently trialling a scheme with the FSA to ease pressure on local authorities, while improving food safety as part of the Government body’s ‘Regulating our Future’ initiative, which has been designed to modernise its approach to food safety.

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