It has been talked about increasingly that the display of food hygiene ratings will become mandatory. But should they? And will it make any difference?
It is a legal requirement in Wales and Northern Ireland that hygiene ratings are displayed, with ratings now required to be displayed on takeaway leaflets in Wales.
A lot is talked about how the display of hygiene ratings will improve hygiene in food premises. Overall I am inclined to agree but feel there is more to it than that.
What improves hygiene?
I recently graduated from my environmental health degree and my dissertation was looking at whether accredited food hygiene training affects hygiene in food premises. At least that was the plan. However from when I first started researching the subject it was clear that there was a lot more to it than just training. And I feel it this the same for food hygiene ratings. My initial research looked at not just training, but at various methods that are used for measuring food hygiene in food premises. Some countries have mandatory display of hygiene ratings, some release the report from the businesses hygiene inspection. Some countries have a requirement for some, or all food handlers to have a certain level of hygiene training, but with all of these options, the question still remains how do you assess the effectiveness of these schemes – I.e. How do we actually know what will increase food hygiene standards?
How to assess hygiene standards?
Is hygiene assessed by the lack of reported illness? But we know that food poisoning is vastly under-reported. Is hygiene standards assessed by the most recent food hygiene inspection? But this is only a snapshot of the hygiene standards in that businesses at one particular moment in time – maybe only assessed by an inspector spending a few hours in that premises.
Having a lot of experience as a chef, trainer and kitchen manager for large brands, I, like a lot of people, know exactly what is required to achieve a “5” hygiene rating. Does that mean because I may know how to play the system and get a “5” that I can run a particularly hygienic food premises?
Food hygiene ratings are based on more than just cleanliness. The FSA ratings are based on three sections;
- hygiene practices (procedures to prevent cross-contamination, temperature control procedures etc)
- structure, cleaning and pests
- Confidence in management (your documented HACCP system, level of training of food handlers and track record)
Some businesses have been awarded a low rating, that on the face of it may seem to suggest unhygienic practices, because they do not have a documented food safety management system in place (HACCP).
Check out the ratings of your local food businesses at www.ratings.food.gov.uk
But the public are not always aware of what the rating is for. A good media headline may sell papers and “name and shame” premises with a low hygiene rating, but this does not always give the full picture.
I would personally prefer to eat at a business that has a few structural defects, doesn't have all of their paperwork in place, but has very good hygiene practices, rather than a business that has a fully documented HACCP system in place (a food safety management system) and no flaking paint – but doesn't have good hygiene practices.
"It`s easy to get a good hygiene rating....."
I have been auditing a business recently that, on first glance, has a fantastic set of documents that could be used to support a defence in the event of a food poisoning allegation and may help to achieve a better hygiene rating. However, dig a little deeper and you can see that their records are a sham. Cooling down records that allegedly demonstrate food was cooled down quickly. However when looking in more detail you have to question exactly how a large joint of meat can be cooled down in 30 minutes to below 5°C within 30 minutes?! And all without a blast chiller… Consider that with the fact there has been another recent food poisoning fatality in the media – caused by slow cooling at room temperature.
Will it improve hygiene?
I do believe that making premises display their hygiene ratings will contribute to better hygiene overall. But I don't think that it is the be all and end all that some media stories and reports on the matter would have you believe.
I found, during my research for my dissertation that having a mandatory level of training of all food handlers made very little difference to overall levels of food hygiene. However, in some states in Australia and the U.S., there is a requirement to have a trained “Food Safety Supervisor” or “Person in Charge”. In Dubai, there is a requirement that there is a person on site that has a person in charge qualification at all times.
Having a nominated person that has responsibility for food safety standards makes them accountable for food standards in that premises. And because they have a higher level of training than their food handlers that they are supervising, they are in a better position to actually supervise food safety.
As already mentioned it is incredibly hard to actually compare what scheme really has an effect on food hygiene ratings, but my overall impression from the research I carried out was that in countries or states whether there is a specific requirement for a supervisor or manager to have a set level of training, it does seem to drive food hygiene standards.
I am sure that having mandatory display of ratings will help to improve hygiene standards, but until the person in charge of the business is required to have a set food safety qualification as well, am not convinced that it will have a significant effect. It will make food hygiene more public though…
If you want help improving your food hygiene rating, check out our website; www.kentfoodsafety.co.uk