What are food hygiene ratings? Your questions answered.

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You may be familiar with the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme. It is a national scheme that operates in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is operated by the Food Standards Agency in partnership with local authorities. The Food Hygiene Rating scheme provides customers with information about hygiene standards in food businesses.  The aim is to allow consumers to make informed choices about where to eat or shop.

Under the scheme, eligible food businesses will be inspected by the local authority to check their level of compliance with food safety laws. Following their inspection, a business will receive a food hygiene rating. This rating will reflect the inspection findings. 

I’ve spent many years working for local authorities, inspecting food businesses and issuing ratings. In this blog, I’m going to take the time to answer the key questions you may have and share my experiences and top tips along the way.

What businesses are eligible to be in the scheme?

Businesses eligible to be in the scheme are those which supply food directly to consumers. This includes places where people consume food prepared outside of the home such as restaurants, cafes, takeaways, and food retailers. Establishments such as schools, nurseries and care homes are also included and wholesalers such as cash-and-carries where they supply food direct to consumers as well as other businesses.

Establishments such as primary producers, manufacturers, packers, importers, exporters, distributors and transporters do not fall within the scope of the scheme as they do not supply food directly to consumers.

Some establishments such as chemists, newsagents and off licences sell pre-packed confectionery or drinks. Their primary business activity may not be food related and so they may not be considered a food business by consumers. These types of businesses may not be included in the scheme. It will be decided by the local authority on a case-by-case basis.

What do ratings mean?

Once an eligible food business has been inspected, it will be issued a rating. This may be provided by the food safety officer or EHO at the time of the inspection or by post following the inspection. The ratings range from 0 to 5 and they provide a snapshot of food hygiene standards found at the time of the inspection.

0 – Urgent improvement is required

1 – Major improvement is necessary

2 – Some improvement is necessary

3 – Hygiene standards are generally satisfactory

4 – Hygiene standards are good

5 – Hygiene standards are very good

What does the rating cover?

To determine a food hygiene rating, an officer will consider three broad areas:

  • food hygiene practices (i.e. how hygienically is food handled?) This includes how food is prepared, cooked, reheated, cooled and stored.
  • the physical condition of the premises. This includes cleanliness, layout, lighting, ventilation, pest control and other facilities
  • food safety management/ confidence in management (i.e. how is food safety managed?) This includes the processes, systems and staff training that are in place to ensure that food is kept safe and good food hygiene standards are maintained. The officer will also consider their level of confidence that standards will be maintained in the future.

To achieve a food hygiene rating of 5, a business must perform well in the three areas listed above. To help you be prepared for your next food hygiene inspection I have created a Food Premises Inspection Check Sheet which you can download for free here.

An officer will NOT consider things such as:

  • quality of food or presentation
  • customer service
  • culinary skill
  • comfort or ambience of the premises

What can you expect during a food hygiene inspection?

During your food hygiene inspection, the food safety officer or EHO will look around your premises and kitchen. They will also look at your paperwork and records.

Here are some of the things they may look at under the three broad areas:

1. Food hygiene practices

The officer may look at whether:

  • food received from suppliers is checked thoroughly. This includes visual checks of packaging and for signs of pests, date labelling and temperature checks of chilled/ frozen food
  • cross-contamination is prevented when storing foods in fridges and freezers
  • dates on foods are checked regularly and out-of-date foods are thrown away
  • foods are cooked, cooled, reheated, hot-held and defrosted safely
  • raw and ready-to-eat foods are prepared separately to prevent cross-contamination
  • colour-coded chopping boards are used to prevent cross-contamination
  • surfaces are cleaned and disinfected regularly using a food-safe sanitiser that complies with BS EN 1276 or BS EN 13697
  • clean cloths are used, ideally single-use cloths
  • staff change into clean, protective clothing before working with food, keep long hair tied back, wear a hat/ hairnet, keep nails short, and do not wear jewellery nail varnish or false nails.
  • there is a staff sickness procedure in place
  • anti-bacterial liquid hand soap and disposable paper towels are provided to all wash hand basins

2. Physical condition of premises

The officer may look at whether:

  • the structure of the premises is clean and in a good condition. This includes walls, floors, ceilings, windows doors and work surfaces.
  • the premises are adequately proofed to prevent pests from entering
  • there are separate sinks for washing food, equipment and for hand washing all provided with a supply of hot and cold water
  • waste is stored correctly inside and outside of the premises
  • premises are kept clean including all equipment, around all floor edges including storage areas
  • there are signs of pests

3. Food safety management

The officer may look at whether:

  • there is a documented food safety management system in place (i.e. Safer Food Better Business)
  • there are records in place to demonstrate food safety including temperature records for fridges, freezers, cooked/ reheated foods
  • you take corrective action to ensure food safety, if things go wrong
  • temperature probes are regularly calibrated in ice and boiling water to ensure they are working properly
  • there is a cleaning schedule in place
  • staff are fully trained in food safety
  • there are records to demonstrate where ingredients and stock has come from.

How to calibrate a digital temperature probe in ice water video:

What can you do if you are not happy with your rating?

If you do not get the rating you hoped for there are a few options.

The appeals procedure

Where a business does not believe the food hygiene rating given reflects the hygiene standards and management controls in place in their business at the time of the inspection they have the right to appeal the rating. This must be done within 21 days. This begins from the date the business was notified of its rating and includes weekends and bank holidays. However, if this is not done within 14 days the food hygiene rating will likely be published on the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme website.

In the first instance, a business owner or manager should try to contact the officer who carried out the inspection to understand why the rating was given.

If a business still disagrees with the rating, it must make the appeal in writing to the local authority’s Lead Food Officer. This can be done by completing an appeals form or sending a letter or email.

Right-to-reply

This is where a business agrees with the rating based on the standards found by the officer at the time of the inspection. But there may have been unusual circumstances at the time of the inspection that led to the low rating or the business may have improved standards since. The right to reply gives a business the opportunity to tell its customers these things. The business’s response will be published online next to the rating. A business that wishes to submit a right-to-reply response should provide it in writing to the officer who conducted their inspection.

Request a re-rating visit

Where a business has made improvements and would like to improve its rating it can request a re-rating visit. This should be done in writing to the officer who conducted the inspection and should outline what improvements had been made. Evidence of improvements should also be provided (i.e. photos and copies of records).

A re-rating visit can be requested at any time. Unless improvements or changes relate solely to structure or equipment, the officer must wait three months before carrying out the re-rating visit. This is because the business must demonstrate they are able to maintain standards over a period of time.

Some local authorities will charge for re-rating visits.

How can you improve your rating?

It is very useful to speak to the officer who did the inspection to understand exactly what improvements can be made. These will also be listed in the inspection report or letter that will be provided following the inspection. Be sure to read this carefully and address all matters. If there are any items you are unsure of make sure you speak to the officer to get clarification.

To help you be prepared for your next food hygiene inspection and I have created a Food Premises Inspection Check Sheet which you can download for free here.

HOW TO GET YOUR

5 STAR RATING

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FREE EBOOK!

“How to get your 5-star food hygiene rating.”

Written by Chartered Environmental Health Officer, Natalie Stanton.

Includes a 50-point inspection checklist!

Learn what the officer will be inspecting and achieve the top Food Hygiene Rating for your business.

Here's how I can help you

Get food safety training from an Environmental Health Officer (EHO). 

This is the UK’s first self-taught, online Level 2 Food Safety & Hygiene course for Catering that is created and taught by EHO, Natalie Stanton. There are no PowerPoint slides and no monotonous voiceover. In only 2 hours, Natalie guides you through the key aspects of food safety in 13 short, pre-recorded videos.