When you work within the food and catering industry you need to ensure that you have the very best food and safety practices and processes in place. The main aim of this is to ensure that your customers are protected and that the food you produce is to the highest standard, but it is also because you are going to want to ensure that you have a reputation for being a clean and hygienic place to eat.
The main way that a customer can tell how you are performing when it comes to food hygiene is with the Food Rating Scheme. But what is this scheme and how does it work?
What is the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme?
The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme is put together by the Food Standards Agency. It is run by the Government throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland and is designed to ensure that takeaways, food shops, cafes, and restaurants all keep up high food safety and hygiene levels, ensuring that the food that we eat is safe.
They give a snapshot of an establishment’s standards at the time of an inspection – with the FSA saying it is businesses’ responsibility to comply with those standards at all times.
The ratings are calculated using the Food Law Code of Practice and are rated from 25 (very poor) to 0 (perfect). This score is worked out across three categories, hygiene, structural and management compliance which are all marked separately before being added together to make the final score.
If businesses are awarded a score lower than five, the local authority officer will explain what action they can take to improve.
Businesses have to apply to be rated again prior to the next scheduled inspection, so even if the improvements are made, this may not be immediately reflected in their score,
But if somewhere poses a risk to public health, part or all of the business can be shut down until it is made safe.
How Often Do Food Rating Inspections Take Place
The frequency of inspections depends on the potential risk to health – so a small retailer selling pre-packed food may only be seen once every two years, while hospitals serving food to vulnerable patients may be visited as often as every six months.
If a council receives a complaint from a customer or organisation about a business which suggests standards are not being maintained, it may pay an unscheduled visit and issue a new rating.
Businesses can appeal their ratings
What is looked at during an inspection?
During an inspection, the three categories are assessed. During the hygiene assessment, it will be looked at how the food is prepared, cooked, cooled, reheated and then stored. The inspector will then look at the structure of the premises, this includes the layout, the lighting, the ventilation, the facilities, pest management and also the cleanliness too. The inspector will also look at the management of your business, including how well you manage and record food safety, including cleaning records, staff training and how well the staff then follow these rules.
Inspectors do not look at the quality of the food and service, culinary skill, presentation or comfort.
“We look at hygiene practices: Are they washing their hands regularly? Is food stored at the right temperature?”
They will check whether vegetables, fruit and salads are washed thoroughly, frozen foods defrosted safely, and ensure staff are aware of allergy hazards.
“We look at structure, the condition of the premises, the walls, floors and ceilings. Can the equipment be effectively cleaned? Is there the right amount of sinks?
Businesses need to be able to demonstrate things like “cooking temperatures, how quickly things are getting into fridges, the temperatures of the fridges”.
Are premises warned they will be inspected?
Very rarely, Mr Cole said.
“We turn up, we don’t make appointments. We try and get a picture of what’s going on and it does throw some people, but there are good reasons for it.
“But if people are only working very occasionally for example in a domestic kitchen where cake-making happens very rarely, if we’ve not got too many concerns and we don’t think they’re trying to pull the wool over our eyes, there are occasions we would have to make an appointment.”
How to get a 5 Star Good Hygiene Rating
There is a good chance that you are going to want to ensure that you do your best to reach the 5-star standard. In order to reach this rating, you are going to need to make sure that you focus particularly on the three assessments areas that will be looked at. Once these areas are as good as they can be, you should be one step closer to achieving that 5-star rating that you crave.
Still, want to know more about the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme? Here at The Training Terminal, we are proud to offer a variety of training courses, all designed to offer you everything that you need for your company to succeed. One of our most popular courses has to be our online “How to Get a 5 Star Rating” which is designed with businesses in mind who want to achieve a 5-star rating and then keep it.
What if businesses do not comply?
In Wales and Northern Ireland, displaying the score a business is awarded on the premises is mandatory.
If a business does not display the score, or misleads the public into thinking its score is higher than it is, it can be issued with a fine, and if problems continue it may be taken to court – and several owners have been prosecuted.
While prosecuting is not done lightly, Mr Cole said it will be done when necessary.
In general, however, he says most businesses have embraced the inspection system, and even use visits as an opportunity to ask advice.
“We do get a whole range of responses, some people are welcoming, some look forward to us coming and other people are a bit more ‘oh not them again’.
“Generally people are used to it now.”
An owner can also end up banned from running a food business, with the FSA keeping a list which is shared with all local authorities in Wales, England and Northern Ireland.
Businesses are not given a zero food hygiene rating for “bad paperwork” and “filthy” premises can be shut down immediately, a food safety officer has said. But Mr Cole added, a zero rating reflects failures across the board. Peter Cole, lead environmental health officer in food safety at Pembrokeshire council, said myths circulate about the “scores on the doors” system.
The Food Standards Agency, and Mr Cole, say the system has improved standards.
“To get a zero, there would be things like cross-contamination between raw meat and ready-to-eat products, pest infestations, it really is the worst level of compliance and they are very few and far between,” he said.
When Did the Food Rating Scheme Begin
In November 2013, Wales became the first UK nation to require food outlets to display their inspection ratings – and following its success, the FSA says it should extend to England, with plans to be submitted for ministerial consideration in 2020.
The proportion of businesses with a rating of five has increased by 24 percentage points since the first ratings were issued in 2013, compared to 17 percentage points in England over the same period.
According to the FSA’s website, 34 premises in Wales have a food hygiene score of zero.
It said it should be possible for all food businesses, no matter on their size or nature, to get a rating of five and 94% of respondents to a survey in Wales reported having seen a ratings sticker – meaning customers are noticing.
Mr Cole, who has worked in environmental health for 27 years, said the ratings system has “drastically” improved standards.
He is also a member of the Wales Food Safety Expert Panel and the Wales Steering Group for Food Hygiene Ratings, both of which “are involved in ensuring that food safety enforcement and food hygiene ratings are carried out effectively and consistently in Wales”.
Food hygiene is a pretty important thing. Obviously, if you’re going to run a business where you prepare and sell food, you want that 5-star food hygiene rating because it is an important reassurance to customers.
How do you actually get that 5-star rating? So many businesses put a lot of effort in and ultimately wind up getting three or four stars, and this can be extremely disheartening and confusing if you’re not sure why.
How to Get 5 Stars
Okay, so how do you get five stars on your food hygiene rating? Well, there’s a couple of different things you can do.
- Make sure that you maintain a clean and tidy food store system, ideally keeping it away from any waste products in the kitchen.
- Adhere to basic food hygiene preparation standards, train staff in any procedures necessary, and demonstrate a level of basic hygiene awareness.
- Develop and establish a strict cleaning schedule, making sure that all areas where food is prepared or stored regularly cleaned out and maintained, to prevent the buildup of disease or bacteria.
- Provide regular staff training on different food hygiene and preparation procedures. Regularly provide advancement. In these areas, to make sure that they can demonstrate sufficient knowledge to safely prepare and handle food.
- Keep accurate and adequate records of cleaning procedures, maintenance, staff training, things like that.
What do Inspections Look For?
It’s probably a good idea to know exactly what these inspections are looking for at the same time.
Basically, inspectors are looking for three main components. They want to see good food hygiene practices, structural compliance, so that the kitchen is set up in a safe way, and also to see the staff are trained in the correct fashion, and management are ready to deal with whatever challenges may occur.
In conclusion, getting a 5-star food hygiene rating is definitely a challenge, there’s a lot of people that struggle to do so, and to be able to succeed will earmark you as being a trusted provider of foodstuffs. Basically, it’s a case of following the rules and regulations as best you can, because this is what you will be judged on, and this is also the type of environment that the agency wants to see.