In this article
Do you run a food business in the UK? Are you based in England, Wales or Northern Ireland? If so, it is only a matter of time before the Food Standards Agency (FSA) comes knocking on your front door to request a food hygiene rating inspection. These inspections are mandatory, and they can affect your livelihood and the reputation of your business.
What you hope for is a high FSA rating that means you’re already doing a fantastic job of running your food business and maintaining good hygiene levels. On the other hand, a low rating can spell trouble. In this article, we give you all the information you need on the FSA, the food hygiene rating appeal process, and why appealing a food hygiene rating is sometimes recommended.
Why is Food Hygiene Important?
No matter what business you run or product you sell, you don’t want that product to cause harm to customers. Lawsuits have been won by parents whose child was injured by a toy, and faulty technology on diesel cars has led to an environmental scandal. The food business is no different – high standards of the product are vital – but in some ways, the quality is more important with food.
When you go to a restaurant with your family for a special occasion, you don’t want to worry about whether the food is healthy enough to eat, or if you’re likely to get ill from eating it. You want to know that the food and the preparation environment adhere to a particular standard. Then you can order whatever you like and enjoy the occasion.
But avoiding lawsuits and keeping people free from illness aren’t the only reasons food hygiene is important for businesses. When a food business has a food standards rating, it serves as a useful promotional item. The business can display this rating or certificate proudly at the counter of the restaurant, meaning all customers and potential customers understand that the kitchen is clean and the food is healthy.
What are Food Hygiene Ratings?
Food Hygiene Ratings are ratings given to a place of business that prepares and serves food to the general public. The ratings are organised and run by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which is a government agency operating in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Scotland, there is a different agency called the Food Hygiene Information Scheme.
These agencies are responsible for assessing the food hygiene levels of businesses that serve food, such as takeaways, food shops, cafes and mobile kitchens. The process of inspecting these businesses and issuing a rating is designed to ensure food standards are met and that food sold in the UK is safe to consume.
The FSA has a standard for safe and consumable food. To ensure that food businesses comply, the FSA periodically inspects businesses and issues them with a star rating. This star rating is in the form of a number with an accompanying description. For instance, a 3-star rating means that the food sold at that business is generally satisfactory.
The star ratings issued by the FSA are very easy to read and understand. They are usually displayed behind the counter in food outlets to give the general public a clear idea of the standard and quality of food served there. Those who want to learn more about the star rating of a food outlet can visit the FSA website and read a complete description of the ratings.
Who Issues a Food Hygiene Rating?
The Food Standards Agency, commonly called the FSA, is the body that awards a Food Hygiene Rating; it have certified over 450,000 people in food hygiene and was set up in the year 2000 following some high profile outbreaks of food-related illnesses. According to WHO, unsafe food is responsible for more than 200 diseases, from diarrhoea to cancer, so the FSA was necessary for the UK.
The UK has a reputation as a global power and a highly developed society. In this respect, they could not fall behind other major nations with already established food hygiene protection. The FSA protects people from food-related illnesses, but it also helps to support the UK economy and ensure its reputation abroad is maintained.
The FSA is the body that awards the food hygiene rating to food outlets, but that isn’t its only responsibility. The authority also tackles food crime which is defined as crimes involving food in the supply chain – this might relate to animal feed or potentially harmful consumables. The FSA also regulates food pricing, availability and aspects of food production and environmental concerns.
Some guiding principles underpin the FSA and ensure it maintains a level of public trust. One of these is transparency; another is accuracy. The FSA always uses the latest scientific evidence to make its key decisions.
What is the Hygiene Rating for Each Level?
The FSA rating scheme gives businesses a rating for their food hygiene. This rating is between 5 and 0. Display of the rating is mandatory in Wales and Northern Ireland, but in England, it’s voluntary. This visible rating is an excellent guide for consumers.
The rating levels are outlined below:
5 – hygiene standards are excellent.
4 – hygiene standards are good.
3 – hygiene standards are generally satisfactory.
2 – some improvement is necessary.
1 – significant improvement is necessary.
0 – urgent improvement is required.
What Does the Rating Cover?
This FSA rating is issued to food businesses following a food hygiene inspection. The rating is an indication of the food standards and how closely they align with the FSA requirements.
The rating covers:
- Handling of food.
- How food is stored.
- How food is prepared.
- Cleanliness of facilities.
- How food safety is managed.
Although many of these factors will contribute to the overall quality of the food, there is no requirement by the FSA for high-quality food.
Therefore, the FSA rules do not cover:
- Quality of the food.
- Customer service.
- Culinary skill.
How Might This Impact Your Business?
Picture the scene, you’re hungry, and you can smell the takeout food across the street. Your nose leads you to the sources, and you go in. The food looks fine behind the counter, but on the wall, you see a low food hygiene rating. Your heart sinks – there’s no way you’ll buy it now.
The food hygiene rating of a business is vital to its bottom line and to its reputation. It’s also crucial for the future of the business, as a low rating that isn’t promptly attended to can lead to closure.
These are just some of the ways a low food hygiene rating might impact your business, but there are others. If the inspectors deem your business to facilitate a low standard of food, you will be tasked with fixing the issues promptly. This may also lead to losses.
According to the FSA, it is not good enough to operate a food business on an unsatisfactory food hygiene rating. If you receive a low rating, you will be tasked with resolving the issue. FSA officers will return to inspect the premises again. If all is well, a higher rating can be issued.
In extreme cases, an FSA officer might close the business immediately to ensure consumers are protected.
What Does a High Rating Mean?
The food hygiene rating scale runs from 0-5, 5 being the highest rating. To achieve this rating, a business must score highly in the three primary elements that make up the rating evaluation.
- How hygienically the food is handled – how it is prepared, cooked, re-heated, cooled and stored.
- The physical condition of the business – including cleanliness, layout, lighting, ventilation, pest control and other facilities.
- How the business manages ways of keeping food safe, looking at processes, training and systems to ensure good hygiene is maintained. The officer can then assess the level of confidence in standards being maintained in the future.
In order to obtain the highest food hygiene rating, a business must perform well in all three categories. If a five star is not issued by the assessing officer, they will tell the owner the reason for it and allow them a chance to resolve the issue.
Most businesses take the opportunity to improve their food hygiene rating, as a five-star rating is desirable and good for promotional purposes.
Following an inspection, the food hygiene rating of the business is then posted online at the official website. This is where business owners and consumers can see a breakdown of the hygiene rating for individual businesses.
What to Do if You Get a Low Rating?
Nobody likes to fail an exam, especially if it’s an important one that could influence your income and whether or not you can go on holiday this summer, but a low food hygiene rating is exactly this – a failed exam.
It’s possible to get a low rating even if you care about your business and think you have everything in place. We don’t always realise the things we’re not doing well. It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that like most failed exams, this one isn’t the end of the world.
Obtaining a low rating for your food business isn’t the best outcome of a food hygiene inspection, but there are positives to take from the experience. You will be given a full breakdown of what you need to bring the business back up to standard – alternatively, you can appeal.
Appealing the rating might make sense if you think the breakdown is unfair and could affect your reputation. The FSA has put an appeals process in place for this outcome, which is explained in more detail below.
Sometimes an appeal is a better choice for a business if they want to protect a valuable reputation. It’s worth remembering that the food hygiene rating is available online to consumers, and the FSA are fully transparent.
How to Appeal a Food Hygiene Rating?
A low food hygiene rating following your inspection can be damaging to your business. You will have to display the rating, and the breakdown of it will be evidenced on the FSA website. These are strong reasons why you would want to appeal a rating. Also, a recent report found that 85% of respondents were aware of the hygiene standards in places they eat out at or buy food from.
The good news is there is a process for appealing this hygiene rating that can clear your business’s name, so to speak. Following the FSA inspection, you will receive a formal letter which details the breakdown of the inspection and what you received a low rating for. After you receive this letter, you can proceed to the appeals process, which is outlined below.
To appeal the low rating, the FSA advises you to make contact with the environmental health officer who carried out the assessment in the first instance. They will be able to give you more information on the rating and why it was issued. You can then make a more informed decision about whether to appeal the rating or not. In some cases, a more complete picture can be useful.
If you still wish to proceed to the appeals process, you will need to contact the FSA in a formal capacity. Visit the FSA website and fill in the appeals form which you can find in the Contact Us section. Alternatively, you can write a formal letter to the FSA’s Lead Officer for food. It’s important to remember that appeals must be made within 14 days of receiving your food hygiene rating.
What is the Appeals Process?
When you lodge an appeal with the FSA, they will still publish your business on the website; however, the status of your rating will be displayed as “awaiting publication”. During this time, the appeal will take place. The Lead Officer will conduct an investigation that doesn’t involve the same environmental health officers responsible for the rating. Within seven days, the Lead Officer will have settled the case.
Following this investigation, the rating you receive will be published on the FSA website. This is subject to change following the Lead Officer’s investigation. If the rating is still unsatisfactory, you still have several options.
You can approach the Local Government Ombudsman for your local authority and open a further investigation into the review process and the final outcome. Unfortunately, the previous low rating will continue to be published on the FSA website during this time.
If your business is based in England, you may also appeal to the FSA Independent Business Appeals Panel if you have a strong enough case against them. Outside of this region, you can take further court action to appeal the rating and have it revised. Bear in mind that court action can be expensive and time-consuming. The rating of your business will continue to be published online during this time.
How Can You Request a Revisit?
Following an inspection from the FSA, it’s in the interests of your business to correct the issue and request a revisit. Even if you feel the rating is unfair and you have grounds for an appeal, the safest and fastest way to maintain the integrity of your food business is to resolve the issue and request a revisit.
When you do this, it means the official rating on the FSA website is displayed as pending, and you get another chance to impress the inspectors. The alternative is to go through the appeals process, which is longer and more involved.
So, how do you request a revisit from an FSA inspector following a low food rating?
You must make the request in writing to the FSA following the visit. You must also state the specific reasons for the revisit and the changes you have made. Revisits normally occur within three months, but they can be sooner if there are changes made to equipment or machinery.
After you have requested a revisit and the changes have been made, you will receive one within a three-month period. There will be no warning of this. The inspectors will turn up unannounced and evaluate your premises on an everyday working basis.
When you run a food business in the UK, specifically England, Wales and Northern Ireland, you are subject to food hygiene rating inspections by the FSA. This stands for the Food Safety Authority, and it was set up to maintain food standards in the UK. The FSA will inspect your food business and issue a rating that will be published on their website.
FSA ratings range from 0-5. Five is the highest rating, and zero is the lowest. If you get a high rating, it can be displayed proudly behind your counter and used as a promotion tool, but a low rating works against you. There can be many reasons for a low rating, including hygiene issues and equipment. Luckily, there is a process for food hygiene rating appeals and a way of requesting a revisit.
No food business wants to have a low rating published on the FSA website, so if your business is affected, appealing a food hygiene rating may be the best decision. Appealing the decision may take longer than requesting a revisit, but it is more likely to protect the integrity of your business. For a faster solution, resolve the FSA issue and receive a revisit within three months.