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Last updated: 02.09.11

National food safety scheme to be standardised under new FSA plans

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has announced plans to unify all food safety ratings schemes in UK local authority areas.

Continuing success with the agency's Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS) along with rising calls for greater information from the public prompted the FSA to release its plans yesterday (September 1st), which will see all local authorities brought into the FHRS.

Currently there are 163 councils operating the scheme, which is "all about putting the consumer first", according to the FSA's chief executive Tim Smith.

"When we launched the FHRS in November 2010, we expressed our strong commitment to achieving a single hygiene rating scheme," he claimed, suggesting that with a single scheme, customers across the country can more easily understand the FHRS and its implications as a unified programme would improve overall knowledge.

Following discussions this year and throughout 2010 with local authorities that had not yet adopted the scheme, the FSA revealed that many councils resisted the initiative over fears of preliminary overheads, IT system worries or simply through a reluctance to part with already existing locally developed food hygiene services. As such, the plans involve the establishment of a central fund to help authorities cover any unforeseen costs and an FHRS pledge for eateries and food businesses to sign up and offer their public support for the scheme.

Similar proposals were put forward in Wales prior to the recent outbreak of E coli. Moves from the Welsh first minister Carwyn Jones in July to implement a law forcing food business to publically display their food hygiene ratings met with widespread approval.

Mr Smith added that the latest plan from the FSA brought the organisation "closer to providing readily accessible ratings for consumers and consistency for businesses … ultimately [driving] up hygiene standards".

Paul Hiscoe of Transparency Data - the software company behind the FHRS online database - said the company was "delighted" to be a part of the new national scheme, which he claimed will build upon the strengths developed in the prior ratings programme known as 'scores on the doors'.

He added that a single national rating system would mean Britain became the world leader in helping inform its populace on basic food safety standards. It is hoped that the remaining areas of the country will take up the programme ahead of the Olympics.