The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme is a rating scheme created and monitored by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to rate food businesses in the UK based on their hygiene and safety standards. Note that this rating scheme is applicable to England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Scotland has its own system, which is the Food Hygiene Information Scheme.

How is a Food Hygiene Rating Assigned?

In the UK, when you open your food business, the FSA will usually send an Environmental Health Officer (EHO) to inspect your premises. After inspection, you will be awarded a food hygiene rating based on food hygiene and safety practices of your business. FSA gives you a rating within 0 to 5, and each of them has a specific meaning.

5 remains top of the scale, this means the hygiene standards are very good and fully comply with the law. 0 is at the bottom of the scale, this means urgent improvement is necessary. To get the top rating, businesses must do well in all three inspection elements. If the top rating is not given, the officer will explain to the business the necessary actions they need to take to improve their hygiene rating.

What is the Importance of a Food Hygiene Rating?

The primary purpose of a food hygiene rating is to inform people about the food hygiene standards of a restaurant or caterer. Note that this helps people understand which restaurant is safe to go to. In addition, it is also a crucial factor for business growth. If you have the 5-star rating, you will get more customers as people are always looking for that rating the most. But if you have a lower rating, you will lose your customers unless you improve the rating.

Note that it is a legal requirement in Wales and Northern Ireland to display your rating in a visible place where the customers can easily spot it. FSA suggests displaying it in the front door, entrance or window of the business. Meanwhile, in England, restaurants or other food businesses aren’t mandated by law to display the rating, however FSA encourages them to do so.

Note that after an inspection in a restaurant, FSA uploads the rating on their website so that people can find the rating online. You can find the rating of a restaurant by giving the business name and location. Businesses which are given low ratings are expected to make urgent or major improvements to hygiene standards.

Remember that the local authority food safety officer has several enforcement options available. The food safety officer will also tell the business how quickly these improvements are expected to be made.

If the officer discovers that a business’s hygiene standards are very poor and there is an imminent risk to public health, the officer is expected to act to ensure consumers are protected. This could result in stopping part of the business or closing it down completely until it is safe to recommence.

Tips to Achieve the 5-Star Rating in Food Hygiene

Have it in mind that a new rating is given each time a business is inspected by a food safety officer from the business’s local authority. Each local authority plans a programme of inspections every year. The frequency of inspections depends on the potential risk to public health. Here are tips that can help you achieve your desired rating.

i. Food Storage

  1. Try to avoid common mistakes like storing raw items alongside ready-to-eat foods. Note that raw foods are not just meat and fish – uncooked and unwashed vegetables must also be stored separately
  2. Always ensure that you have a clearly labelled storage system with use-by dates displayed
  3. Remember that food should always be stored on racks and not on the floor

ii. Food Preparation

  1. Try to avoid washing raw and ready-to-eat foods in the same sink to reduce the risk of cross-contamination
  2. If you’re in a smaller workspace and you don’t have access to multiple sinks, you will need to create a food preparation schedule and stick to it. For instance, prepare any ready-to-eat foods first thing, then clean the area thoroughly before moving onto raw vegetables
  3. If you have a larger kitchen area, always ensure that there are separate workspaces for raw fish, meat, vegetables and ready-to-eat foods. If you’re working in a smaller space, plan the work day accordingly, prepping each food type at separate points in the day, and making sure utensils and surfaces are properly cleaned in between each stage of preparation

iii. Cleaning

Have it in mind that it is always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to keeping your workspace clean.

  1. Ensure you keep a cleaning schedule and stick to it, breaking down each task and making sure the workspace is cleaned in a consistent manner every day
  2. Always ensure that the hand washing sink is kept clean, and is always stocked with antibacterial soap. Blue roll should be easily accessible so that anyone in the kitchen can dry their hands or mop up spills quickly
  3. Empty bins as regularly as possible, and never allow them to overflow
  4. Fridges should always be deep cleaned at the end of each month, while ovens should be cleaned on a weekly basis.

iv. Staff Training

  1. It’s very imperative that your kitchen staff have adequate training on how to safely prepare food and reduce the risks of cross-contamination
  2. Staff should understand the importance of wearing protective clothing and head coverings, shouldn’t wear jewellery or watches in the kitchen, and should be fully aware of hand washing best practices
  3. Refresher training should also take place on a regular basis for everyone who’s expected to work in the kitchen. Always ensure that the training is tailored specifically to your business

5. Record Keeping

  1. You are expected to have up-to-date records of all of the above activities
  2. You will also need to document a food safety policy together with daily check sheets for fridge and freezer temperatures, as well as food temperatures
  3. Any gaps in documentation will have an impact on the final rating

Conclusion

In the UK, businesses that pose a higher risk are inspected more often than businesses that pose a lower risk. The time between inspections also tend to vary from six months for the highest risk businesses to two years for lower risk businesses.

For some very low risk businesses, the interval between inspections may be longer than two years; however there may be some exceptions to this. The rating shows how well the business is doing overall, based on standards found at the time of inspection. The ratings can be found online and on stickers which are displayed at business premises. The back of the sticker and the online rating will also show the date of the inspection.

Ajaero Tony Martins