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Businesses have legal duties under food hygiene and safety laws to ensure the food they produce and sell is safe for consumers to eat. Ensuring that food is hygienically prepared and safe to eat is not only a legal requirement, it also makes good business sense. For a food business to be successful, it has to attract and keep customers by showing them that its hygiene standards are high. The best way of demonstrating this is by being awarded a high rating under the food hygiene rating scheme (FHRS).
The FHRS is recognisable across the UK, and its overall aim is to reduce the number of food poisoning cases. According to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), approximately 2.4 million cases of foodborne illness occur every year in the UK, which is up from the 2009 estimate of approximately one million. These cases can potentially cause up to £1 billion in loss of earnings for food businesses.
Not only can the FHRS impact food safety, but it can also significantly influence consumer choice.
According to the latest NFU Mutual Food Hygiene Report:
- 69% of people check the food hygiene ratings of the establishments they use; and
- Nearly 1 in 50 people wouldn’t be influenced by a food hygiene rating displayed in a window.
The findings mean that consumers take hygiene ratings seriously when deciding on where to purchase and eat food. Therefore, businesses should always aim for a 5-star hygiene rating, which is achievable for all types and sizes.
This article will look at what the food hygiene rating scheme (FHRS) is, why achieving a good rating is important, what an officer will check for and how to achieve a 5-star rating.
What is the food hygiene rating scheme (FHRS)?
The food hygiene rating scheme (FHRS), which is also known as the ‘scores on the doors‘ project, has been running since 2010. For the last decade, food hygiene rating stickers have become a familiar sight to consumers across the UK.
The FHRS provides consumers with information on a business’s hygiene standards. It helps them to make informed choices on where to purchase and eat food. It also gives them the confidence that food hygiene and safety standards are in place, and the business is taking its obligations seriously.
The FHRS applies to food businesses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and it is run by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in partnership with local authorities. In Scotland, it is Food Standards Scotland who is responsible, and they run a different type of scheme: the Food Hygiene Information Scheme (FHIS). If your business is in Scotland, you can find out more about the FHIS.
The FHRS applies to businesses that directly supply and sell food to consumers and where food is eaten on the premises, for example (this list is not exhaustive):
- Cafes, pubs and restaurants.
- Sandwich shops.
- Hotels and canteens.
- Mobile traders.
- Food retailers, e.g. supermarkets and convenience stores.
- Schools, hospitals and care homes.
- Other places where people eat food prepared/cooked/served outside of the home.
The FHRS does not apply to businesses that do not supply or sell food directly to consumers, such as manufacturers and packers. There are also exempt groups who will still be inspected but will not receive a food hygiene rating, e.g. those who sell unrefrigerated pre-wrapped goods, such as newsagents, and childminders and businesses caring for people in their own homes.
The FHRS rating given to a food business is a reflection of the food hygiene standards found at the time of the inspection.
There are six different ratings, which are:
- 5 – Hygiene standards are very good.
- 4 – Hygiene standards are good.
- 3 – Hygiene standards are generally satisfactory.
- 2 – Some improvement is necessary.
- 1 – Major improvement is necessary.
- 0 – Urgent improvement is required.
A 5-star hygiene rating is at the top of the scale, and it is the highest a business can achieve. Obtaining this rating demonstrates compliance with food hygiene and safety laws fully and at a high level.
After the inspection, the business is given a window sticker that shows its rating, and it can also display the rating online. In Wales and Northern Ireland, it is a legal requirement to display the sticker in a prominent position. In England, it is voluntary. However, it may become mandatory in the future.
Customers can search for a business’s hygiene rating on the Food Standards Agency website.
Why is it important to achieve a good food hygiene rating?
All food businesses should aim to achieve the highest food hygiene rating, which is 5-star.
It is important, as receiving a poor hygiene rating can result in:
- A loss of customers – Having a poor rating means that consumers are less likely to want to purchase food from you. According to the NFU food hygiene report, customers would turn away from a 3-star rated business, but not one that was 5-star rated. Would you fancy eating food from somewhere that has a poor hygiene rating? Having a higher rating will attract more customers.
- A loss of takings – Customers are less likely to spend their money in establishments with a lower rating, and if they do, they are likely to spend less. Therefore, if you have a higher hygiene rating, your business will likely be more financially successful than one with a lower rating.
- Harm to consumers – If your business has a poor rating, this indicates overall poor food safety and hygiene standards. This can increase the risk of illness or injury to consumers, e.g. food poisoning. In some situations, poor food safety and hygiene standards can be life-threatening, e.g. cross-contact of allergens can result in severe reactions in those who are allergic to certain ingredients. A high hygiene rating will prevent harm to your customers and potential compensation claims.
- Enforcement action – If food safety and hygiene standards are found to be very poor during an inspection, or if customers are made ill, local authorities can take enforcement action against the business owner. This can result in prosecutions, significant financial costs and reputational damage. In extreme cases, it could result in the closure of the business.
- More frequent inspections – You will have more frequent inspections by the local authority if you have a low hygiene rating, which will result in more time and money being spent addressing the issues found.
Overall, having a poor hygiene rating and even one that is generally satisfactory can have a financial impact on your business. It is important to have a good food hygiene rating, as it gives consumers the confidence that the food they are eating has been prepared hygienically and is safe to eat.
It also demonstrates to the local authority that your food business is complying with food hygiene and safety laws, which will improve your business’s reputation, operation and finances.
What are the main things officers will check?
Inspections for the FHRS are carried out by environmental health officers (EHOs) (also known as food safety officers) who work for local authorities. They will visit a food business’s premises to inspect food safety and hygiene standards. EHOs can inspect the premises at any time, and they arrive unannounced. This is why it is important to comply with food safety laws and ensure that high hygiene standards are maintained at all times.
The frequency of inspections is based on the potential risk to public health. Businesses that pose a higher risk to consumers will be inspected more frequently, e.g. every six months. The frequency of inspection for lower risk businesses can be up to every two years.
This can be extended further for very low-risk premises, e.g. those with an impeccable record and a 5-star hygiene rating. Inspections can also occur between these frequencies, e.g. if there is a complaint submitted to the local authority or to confirm that hygiene standards are being maintained.
When carrying out food hygiene inspections, EHOs will follow the Food Law Code of Practice. There are different codes of practice for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
During a FHRS inspection, the officer will focus on three main elements, which are:
- Hygienic handling of food – Including preparation, cooking, cooling, reheating and storage.
- Cleanliness and condition of facilities and building – Including suitable layout, lighting, ventilation, handwashing, pest control and other facilities.
- Food safety and hygiene management – How the business manages food safety and maintains good hygiene standards by looking at HACCP systems, processes, checks, training and records.
Factors such as food quality and customer service are not included in the inspection.
Checking these three main elements verifies compliance with food safety laws and good hygiene practices, which demonstrates food is safe for consumers to eat. For a business to obtain a 5-star hygiene rating, it must perform well in all three elements.
After the inspection, the EHO will give the business a food hygiene rating. An appeal can be made to the local authority if the owner does not agree with the EHO’s decision.
If food hygiene standards are found to be very poor during an inspection, and there is an imminent public health risk, the EHO can order temporary closure of the business. It will only be allowed to continue when improvements have been made, and it has been proven safe.
How to achieve a 5-star food hygiene rating
Achieving a 5-star food hygiene rating is possible for any business, regardless of its size and nature, and owners should aim for the highest rating for the reasons already mentioned.
So what do you need to do to achieve a 5-star food hygiene rating? You will need to focus on the three elements mentioned previously, which will include the following (this list is not exhaustive):
- Good hygiene practices – All food businesses must follow good hygiene practices (HACCP pre-requisites) to comply with the law. Those required will depend on the nature of your food business, its size and risks.
Some examples of good hygiene practices include:
– Suitable design, construction and layout of the food premises.
– Suitable plant and equipment, which is safe for operators to use, easy to clean and hygienic.
– Supplier approval systems.
– Separate areas and equipment to prevent cross-contamination and cross-contact.
– Effective cleaning and disinfecting procedures.
– High standards of personal hygiene of employees, e.g. handwashing, no jewellery and clean protective equipment.
– Pest prevention, management and control.
– Suitable waste management procedures and facilities.
Following good hygiene practices properly will help you achieve your 5-star rating. You can find further guidance on good hygiene practices in the Safer Food, Better Business (SFBB) guidance from the Food Standards Agency.
- HACCP – All food businesses must have a food safety management system or procedures based on the seven HACCP principles to comply with the law. HACCP involves a preventive approach to food safety. It looks at the different hazards that could affect food processes and how these can be controlled and managed to prevent illness and injury to customers. Having a documented HACCP system, which is fully implemented, is a vital part of achieving your 5-star hygiene rating.
- Staff training – All staff who are preparing and handling food must have up-to-date food hygiene and HACCP training, which should also include applicable good hygiene practices. They must also be fully aware of your food safety management system, procedures and processes. Training should be refreshed regularly and records kept.
- Keeping up-to-date and accurate records – Records of training, inspections and checks are required for due diligence purposes to prove to EHOs that you are managing food safety and hygiene within your business and are therefore complying with the law. Having evidence of relevant, up-to-date and accurate records demonstrates that your procedures are being followed.
Examples of records include:
– Fridge temperature checks.
– Food temperature records.
– Food safety hazards and risk assessments.
– Staff training records.
– Cleaning regimes.
– Pest control reports.
After the inspection, the EHO will explain the improvements you will need to make if you fail to achieve a 5-star rating. You should address the issues detailed in the EHO’s last report to achieve the maximum rating. There may be some costs involved with making improvements, but you should look at it as an investment. Achieving the top hygiene rating will attract more customers and benefit your business financially.
If your business has fully implemented an effective food safety management system, such as Safer Food, Better Business (SFBB), you will likely achieve a 5-star rating; you can use the SFBB pack to help you improve your food hygiene and safety standards. There are separate packs for different types of food businesses, so you will need to select the one that applies to you. Bromley London Borough Council has also produced a checklist for businesses that can help improve your hygiene rating.
Further information, and guidance on the FHRS, can be found on the Food Standard Agency’s guidance webpage.
The food hygiene rating scheme (FHRS) has proven to be very successful, and it is recognised nationally by food businesses and customers alike. It plays a significant role in preventing food-borne illnesses and giving consumers an informed choice of where to purchase and eat food.
Good food hygiene and safety is essential for all food businesses. Not only is it the law, but it can also help you achieve and maintain a 5-star hygiene rating. This can enhance your business’s reputation and keep your customers safe and healthy.
It is within all food businesses’ own interests to achieve the highest food hygiene rating of 5 stars. Those with lower ratings can be impacted financially and are likely to have fewer customers than those with higher ratings. As you have seen, even a 3-star rating can put customers off from purchasing food from a business.
Any food business can achieve a 5-star hygiene rating. You need to ensure that you are compliant with food safety and hygiene laws and have covered the three elements that EHOs will focus on during a FHRS inspection. If you have implemented a food safety management system based on the HACCP principles, you should be able to achieve your 5-star hygiene rating.
There is a wealth of guidance from the Food Standards Agency and local authorities on food safety and hygiene and how to comply with the relevant laws. You can also access various articles on food hygiene via our knowledge base to further understand what is required.