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Last updated: 27.09.17

A guide to the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme

When running a food service company, food safety and hygiene should always be among the top priorities to consider in any decision-making process. In a world where paying customers are becoming more informed about their food choices than ever before, skimping out on hygiene isn't just dangerous and unethical - it's an act of significant commercial self-harm.

As such, modern businesses have become increasingly keen to not only improve their food hygiene standards, but to also find a way of proving their strong safety credentials to would-be patrons - which is where the Food Standards Agency's (FSA's) Food Hygiene Rating Scheme comes into play.

This assessment scheme is designed to help the regulator keep tabs on which companies are falling short of the requisite hygiene standards, but it can also be a great way for high-performing businesses to demonstrate that their practices are in line with consumer expectations.

An overview

The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland - and the counterpart Food Hygiene Information Scheme in Scotland - are designed to give consumers an at-a-glance insight into the food safety standards of restaurants, pubs and cafes, as well as other premises that manufacture or sell food.

The scheme is operated by the FSA in partnership with local authorities, with the latter organising hygiene inspections, publishing scores on the FSA website and advising how improvements could be made.

It allows diners to make more educated choices on where they eat, while also providing companies with an impetus to make sure their performance in this area is up to scratch.

How are ratings given out?

Ratings are given to all businesses that supply food directly to consumers, including products consumed both on and off-premises, as well as companies that are not solely food-based.

Scores are calculated following an inspection by an environmental health officer, who will assess factors including methods of food handling, food hygiene and safety procedures, the cleanliness of the premises, the standard of hygiene training on offer and the presence of a documented food safety management system.

In broad terms, the assessments examine hygiene standards, business structure and confidence in management, before looking at the levels of compliance within the company and any risks to public health that might be the case, and then providing a final score.

What do the scores mean?

Businesses evaluated through the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme will receive one of six scores, depending on their performance in the assessment:

  • Five - a very good standard of hygiene, meaning the company was able to meet or exceed the legal requirements
  • Four - a good standard of hygiene, given to businesses that show only a small handful of non-compliance issues that are not deemed critical to food safety
  • Three - a generally satisfactory hygiene standard, awarded when there is evidence of a reasonable amount of non-critical non-compliance that does not affect food safety
  • Two - awarded when improvement is seen as necessary, due to major non-compliance issues
  • One - received when major improvement is needed, owing to significant and widespread examples of non-compliance with safety regulations
  • Zero - awarded only when urgent improvement is necessary, due to a business showing almost complete non-compliance with food hygiene basics

Additionally, some organisations may receive an exemption if they do not supply food directly to the public or are considered very low-risk, such as those that only sell food via vending machines. These businesses will still be inspected by the local authority, but will not receive a rating.

How can my business achieve a top rating?

Since these ratings are easily accessible by the public, it is clear to see why a high score can significantly bolster your establishment's reputation, offering concrete proof of your commitment to the very highest safety standards.

As such, it's well worth putting in the necessary work to make sure your company is able to achieve a top rating. That means making sure all fixtures, fittings and equipment are regularly cleaned and maintained, and that food-handling staff have received the appropriate training through a food hygiene course. This way, employees will receive food hygiene certificates, which will act as documentation proving they have received the training.

Additionally, investing in an effective food safety management system such as HACCP is also advisable, with managers and supervisors trained to regularly utilise and review the system to make sure it is working at an optimal level.

By taking these steps, companies can make sure they are ready for inspections whenever they might occur, allowing them to achieve the kind of food hygiene rating that will showcase their business in the best possible light.

Summary: The food hygiene rating system is an important tool for letting customers know that your business conforms to the highest food safety standards - so it's important to do the necessary work to achieve a top score.

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