Whilst the majority of us deal with food on a day-to-day basis, few of us are actually aware of the protocols that are necessary when working in the food industry, especially in environments that require preparing food for the general public.
Food hygiene is a crucial aspect of ensuring safety and preventing foodborne illnesses. Whether you work in catering, prepare food at a restaurant, work in food manufacturing or in a small cafe, this post will explain the food hygiene rating scheme to outline the proper steps that are necessary to guarantee the safety of consumers.
The food hygiene rating scheme helps customers choose where to eat out or shop for their food by providing information about the business's hygiene standards. This helps to ensure that consumers are well informed about the setting in which their food is prepared so that they can choose accordingly.
These ratings are decided after an inspection has taken place, and are required to cover areas such as:
The Food Standards Agency sets the criteria for the areas of inspection to ensure that it is fair across the board. All businesses are inspected on the same areas of food safety, which then amounts to an overall rating. This helps customers to differentiate between businesses when deciding on where to eat, as they can choose the business that has the highest food standards and avoid the ones that don’t.
Food hygiene ratings are scored from 5 to 0. This indicates the level at which the business is managing its setting when preparing and serving food.
The scores help to identify what businesses are doing well in terms of their food safety and what organisations require improvement. Being able to monitor these helps to ensure that consumers can choose where to eat safely and it helps to create a system where people remain aware when consuming food.
Below is an outline of the different scores and what they mean, set by the Food Standards Agency.
When scoring a 5 on a food hygiene rating, this means that the standards are very good and the business is complying with the law set by the FSA after scoring between 0 and 15 points on their inspection.
To get the highest score, businesses must handle food properly, display physical cleanliness which includes the layout of the kitchen, ventilation, cleanliness and effective pest control measures, and they must also be managing how they keep food safe with training and internal systems.
Scoring a 4 on a food hygiene assessment means that the business's standards are good, as they have scored a total of 20 points. This shows that the organisation is a good provider of food. There may be a few minor errors that the inspector will advise on improving, which can help to get the score up to a 5 in the future.
A score of 3 states that a business is generally viewed as satisfactory for their food hygiene, as they have been given 25 to 30 points. Although there is room for improvement, these aren’t viewed as immediate as the hygiene levels in the establishment don’t pose any threats to consumers.
When businesses score a 2 on their food hygiene rating it means that they have scored 35 to 40 points, which suggests that improvements are necessary. A 2 states that there are concerns in their facilities or handling practices that require changes to stay in line with relevant food hygiene laws.
Scoring 1 in food hygiene shows that major and immediate changes are needed, as a business has scored 45 to 50 points. This usually means that there are consistent breaches of food hygiene rules and often a lack of training within the organisation. Businesses are required to make these changes immediately in order to be in line with the regulations.
As 0 is at the bottom of the scale and means that a business has scored more than 50 points, which indicates that the inspector has found that the organisation requires urgent improvement before continuing to work with food. Often if these changes are not made immediately, other steps can be taken.
If the business is failing to keep a record of food safety systems and breaching a number of food hygiene laws, this could put people's health at immediate risk.
Any business that is working with or handling consumable goods should have a food hygiene rating. Many of the organisations that are a part of this scheme include:
If you are handling, preparing or selling food and other consumable products, then a food hygiene rating is important. However, businesses that don’t provide food that is sold directly to the consumer, such as primary producers, distributors and transporters, importers and exporters, manufacturers and packers, are exempt from the scheme.
Ratings are given each time a business is inspected by a food safety officer and are carried out by the organisation's local authority. The inspections take place each year, with some being more frequent than others, depending on the score they have been given.
If a business gets a low score, inspections will be carried out frequently to ensure that they have made the necessary improvements.
Food hygiene ratings are carried out by the business's local authority, so once the business has been registered, you will be eligible for a food hygiene inspection. The inspection will look at how hygienically the food is handled, the physical condition of the business and how the business manages ways of keeping food safe.
After the inspection has taken place, the business will then be scored from 0 to 5, which gives them the food hygiene rating. If the score is low and in need of improvement, the inspector will advise on what needs to be done in order to get a higher score next time.
Businesses have a right to appeal or reply for an inspection if they feel that the rating they received wasn’t fair, which can be done by contacting your local inspector. It is important to bear in mind that charges may apply when applying for a re-inspection of your business.
Organisations with a 5-star food hygiene rating are of a high standard for food safety and preparation.
There are a few ways to ensure that you achieve a 5-star rating; ensuring you maintain a food storage system, attention to cleanliness, staff training, up-to-date records of food processes, and hygienic food preparation are all ways that will help work towards a higher score.
If your business has received a lower score on food hygiene, following the protocols that have been advised by your inspector will also help ensure you gain a higher rating on the next inspection.
Once you have had your inspection from the local authority, a food hygiene rating will be sent to you in a formal document, approximately 14 days after the visit. This will include your certificate with the business's food hygiene score on.
There are both online and sticker ratings that can be displayed to let customers know your score. Food hygiene stickers will be sent to you from your local authority, which can then be displayed on menus, windows or other areas where they will be visible to customers.
Online ratings are a great way for customers to view a business's score before visiting, and it also helps to compare scores to decide which organisation offers the highest standard of food hygiene. Often, online scores are found at www.food.gov.uk/ratings.
The best rating you can achieve on the food hygiene rating scale is a 5. This is the highest rating and indicates that hygiene standards are excellent and that the business complies with all food safety laws, which means that no further improvements are needed in the establishment's food hygiene processes.
The time you have to make an appeal for your food hygiene rating is dependent on your local authority. Some authorities require 14 days after you have received the rating, whereas others are 21 days. It is best to check beforehand with your inspection officer to see how long you have to appeal.
Depending on the level of risk your business poses will determine how long your hygiene rating lasts. Businesses with a lower rating and of higher risk will be inspected every six months.
Businesses that are of a lower risk and higher rating are often inspected every two years. For organisations that are of a very low-risk category, the assessment may even be more than two years. Ultimately it is down to the officer to decide how long is needed between each visit.
If you aim to have fewer inspections, it is important that your business remains up to date with all food safety laws and hygiene standards.
It is vital when working with food that guidelines are in place and kept up to date regularly, to ensure the safety of consumers as well as a good food hygiene rating for your business. Organisations with a good reputation in food hygiene are more likely to stand apart from their competitors who do not offer the same standards, which is another incentive for businesses to get the best rating possible.
If you aim to set yourself aside from the competition and provide the best possible standards for food hygiene, Virtual College offers an online ‘Achieving a Five Star Food Hygiene Rating’ course suitable for a range of employees and employers working in the hospitality industry.