Food hygiene ratings; excuses for low scores are a cop out and I can prove it, with my 5/5 rating

278301_10150740293235607_517530606_20153284_5509902_o-e1313180420378

Guest blog from my partner, Misia (@safetypin_)

It was reported today that Adonis Kebab House in Cardiff has closed following an E.coli outbreak. Five people were affected – one was hospitalised. As far as I’m concerned, this simply isn’t acceptable.

E.coli is easily preventable in cooked food. If fresh food is stored and cooked properly and preparation areas are kept clean, it is highly unlikely that an E.coli contamination will break out. But Adonis is not unique in its failure to sell uncontaminated food. A quick Google search will reveal a staggering number of UK restaurants that have been forced to close after being linked to E.coli outbreaks.

It’s important to remember that E.coli is a serious disease. The infection primarily causes severe and painful gastrointestinal problems, but other complications can arise as a result of the infection. It can necessitate hospitalisation even for fit and healthy adult, but E.coli can be fatal for those who are already physically vulnerable. A pregnant woman who contracts E.coli has an increased risk of miscarriage or premature delivery. Children and the elderly are especially susceptible to developing hemolytic uremic syndrome; the symptoms of which include a low red blood cell count, a low platelet count and kidney damage, which can ultimately lead to death.

Many of us have heard the story of Mason Jones, a boy who died after contracting an E.coli infection in 2005, aged five. The outbreak of E.coli that killed Mason Jones was traced back to a local butcher who failed to meet basic food hygiene standards. This story is a sobering reminder that all the recent discussions about the Food Standards Agency food hygiene ratings aren’t just a big fuss over nothing. The FSA hasn’t designed this scheme for fun. It’s there to protect people; to prevent new cases like that of Mason Jones – which is why I’m always furious when I read a quote from a restaurant owner making excuses for their low food hygiene rating.

The most common excuse is that the restaurant failed “on a technicality”. I can say with complete confidence that there is no “technicality” that could leave an otherwise clean and safe food premise with a rating lower than 3. The reason I’m so certain that this is true is that I’ve recently been through an inspection from the Cardiff Council Food Safety Team myself. I’m in the process of setting up a food business in a residential kitchen, but the guidelines are exactly the same as for those working in a professional kitchen (and, for anyone who’s interested, we received a rating of 5. It’s really not hard to achieve).

The guidelines are simple. A booklet filled with information on how staff should keep themselves clean, how food should be stored, how to keep the kitchen clean, how to ensure that food is cooked properly and how to prevent pests is provided, and it is required that every staff member signs to show that they have read the booklet. The booklet is detailed but simple – it’s designed to be understandable even to those with a limited understanding of English. Most people would already do all of the things listed in the booklet instinctively – storing raw meat away from fresh vegetables, washing your hands before and after handling food etc. – but the fact that you’re required to have read it before opening a business ensures that nobody has any excuse to neglect to do any of these things.

The only part that could be considered a technicality is the record-keeping. The council inspector confessed during our meeting that one of the main reasons restaurants don’t receive scores of 4 (good) or 5 (very good) is that they don’t keep a record of what happens day-to-day in their kitchens (though I’d like to stress that he did also tell us that you can’t get a rating of 2 or lower based only on that). While this in itself isn’t going to affect the quality of the food, it’s still a very important part of running a food business. Kitchen workers aren’t expected to write an essay each day – all that’s required is that they sign to say that they’ve cleaned the kitchen and checked for any problems, and that they make a note of any issues that arose that day and how they were resolved. It takes less than two minutes to fill out and it ensures that everyone can see that they are complying with the food safety rules they promised to follow when they started trading.

So when a restaurant receives a low score and blames it on a technicality, this can only mean one of two things: Either they’re lying – and they haven’t actually been keeping their kitchen clean and safe – or they simply can’t be bothered to take a few minutes a day to prove that they are doing everything correctly. I would never choose to eat in a restaurant that does either of these things. For obvious reasons, I would avoid any establishment where I can’t be guaranteed food that has been safely cooked, but I would be just as likely to steer clear of somewhere that doesn’t take their duty to keep track of what’s happening in their kitchen seriously. If they’re that lax with such a simple task, where else might they be slacking?

I believe that we all have a right to know how committed a restaurant is to serving safe food to their customers, and I don’t think any of us should eat in a restaurant that has a score lower than 3 (generally satisfactory). I implore people to continue to name and shame the restaurants that are failing to meet the standards we should be able to expect, whether that’s because they genuinely aren’t doing the things they should be doing or because they simply aren’t willing to put in the time to prove that they’re doing everything right.

I don’t particularly want to have to deal with an E.coli infection myself, but with a young son the importance of knowing that the food I buy isn’t contaminated is more important than ever. All I require from a restaurant owner is that in exchange for the money I’m paying, you can assure me that you have done everything in your power to make sure that it’s safe for me to eat. And, let’s face it, that is not something I should have to ask for.

To find out the food hygiene rating of any UK restaurant, simply search for the restaurant here http://ratings.food.gov.uk/QuickSearch.aspx

 

 

 

42 Comments

  1. Thanks for the insight into the process, I’ve heard a lot of conflicting evidence and it’s good to get it straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were, by hearing from someone who has been through the process personally.

    I agree that a reasonable standard of hygiene is something that we should be able to take for granted, but I am still baffled by the rating system because places which have been deemed unsatisfactory are apparently allowed to continue to do business with no apparent penalty (other than the potentially embarrassing rating of course).

    This can only mean that either the council/food standards agency/whoever is ultimately responsible isn’t taking this particularly seriously after all, or that getting a low mark is actually not that serious. I can’t countenance the former so I have to assume it’s the latter, and that the authorities deem that, contrary to your opinion, a low rating, although undesirable, does not generally indicate an immediate problem.

    If I’m wrong, and they are aware of establishments that are so negligent as to present a real and present danger to their customers, and allow them to remain open, then this strikes me as extremely serious, and frankly I am horrified at the prospect. Is this, in your opinion, the case?

  2. My local church, which used to run a low-cost Lunch Club for underprivileged Cardiffians, has a 4/5 rating. Same goes for the church down the road. If a community organisation run by volunteers can get a 4, so can 100% of businesses.

  3. Another example of a technicality that I have heard is that kitchens in old (perhaps even listed) properties are unable to arrange their area in an optimum way for food preparation. I don’t know what this means in reality – perhaps they don’t have enough work surfaces to keep things separate, or they can’t properly ventilate the area. I don’t know, but it seems like these could be reasonable excuses.

  4. I’d really like to know exactly what the scores indicate and what penalties are applied for ‘technical’ infringements or otherwise. There is still considerable confusion over the system, and the examples of establishments that have leapt quickly from zero ratings to maximum ratings (crumbs and the plan are two that I am aware of) suggest there is something unexplained which undermines the implied severity of a low rating.

  5. I stand by my original comments; if you’re running a food business then there are regulations set out. If you can’t comply with all of the regulations then get out of the business. They’re written, in plain English, and are simple to understand and follow. It’s not complex stuff.

    I wouldn’t put out 1/5 rated code. You wouldn’t expect your mechanic to do a 2/5 job on fixing your car.

    The “technicality” or “paperwork” excuses mean that the business isn’t taking its responsibilities seriously, they’re choosing not to follow certain regulations. Why should they be above the law? They think that they’re “too busy for stupid paperwork”, and if they think this about paperwork then it could point to other corners being cut (“I don’t have time to make sure the stupid fridge is the right temperature”).

    This country now has a pretty good food hygiene standards. It’s rare to hear about cases of E.Coli and food poisoning illnesses, and that’s going to be because of the strict regulations that we have. And it should stay that way, or else it’ll slip. The last thing we want is a repeat of this > http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_pictures/7242728.stm

  6. Huh? I didn’t write this piece and I’m not here to answer your specific questions about food hygiene regulations. I suggest you pose them to the Food standards agency or the council food team.

  7. Well clearly I’m addressing Misia too. I don’t think it is beyond comprehension that I should refer to the two of you as ‘you’. But just so you know, that’s what I mean.

    There are further questions raised by this story that you have not attempted to address. I think considering you are presenting yourselves as an authority on this, readers are entitled to ask for clarification.

    If you’re not interested in answering, that’s fine, but it does raise doubts about your credibility.

  8. For clarification, I meant the specific points in my first comment, not the second one, which wasn’t asking anything. So none of my questions to you are about food hygiene regulations, they are just asking for your opinion.

  9. I’d like to make it completely clear that I don’t consider myself an authority on this. However, having recently been through the process, I probably have a better understanding than someone who hasn’t.

    Firstly, here’s what the ratings actually mean:
    0 – Urgent improvement necessary
    1 – Major improvement necessary
    2 – Improvement necessary
    3 – Generally satisfactory
    4 – Good
    5 – Very good

    By giving a rating lower than 3, the Food Standards Agency are saying that improvements are necessary in the restaurant. They will tell the owner exactly what needs to be done and arrange another inspection in the future. The time between the two visits can vary, so I can’t comment on how long a restaurant is given to make the improvements.
    By giving a low rating, the FSA aren’t saying that a restaurant scoring 0 is acceptable; they’re saying that urgent improvement is necessary if the owner wants to avoid closure.

    In response to your question about restaurants who quickly go from a low score to a high one, as the word ‘improvement’ implies, the points that the restaurant fails on are generally things that can be changed. For instance, if a restaurant loses a point because they aren’t storing food properly, their rating will rise when this is addressed. Sometimes improvement can be huge task, but sometimes it’s simply a case of completing paperwork and rearranging the fridge.

  10. Thanks Misia. I’ve seen those general meanings on the FSA website but it doesn’t go into much detail.

    I’m sure you’ve seen this article: http://yourcardiff.walesonline.co.uk/2011/08/15/revealed-the-reasons-why-city-restaurants-scored-zero-for-food-hygiene/ and although most of them sound terrible, and many don’t seem to have taken steps to improve, it seems that a 0 rating might be interpreted as harsh in some cases (crumbs, for example, which now has a 5 rating), particularly in light of some of the worst examples. A dirty microwave or freezer is certainly not ideal but it’s not in the same league as some of the stuff the others are guilty of. Perhaps they need to introduce negative ratings!

    I have to say it still seems like a sweeping assertion to say there are no excuses for a low score. Perhaps I’ll make some enquiries at the FSA/council as Nate suggested and try to unearth some more details.

  11. I still maintain that there aren’t any excuses for it.
    Even if it comes down to something that seems like a small oversight, I think that food businesses have a responsibility to follow ALL of the food safety rules properly. I don’t want to eat somewhere where the chefs feel that they can pick and choose which ones matter.

  12. There aren’t any excuses AT ALL. In fact professional integrity would surely be a driving force behind wanting and achieving a 5 out of 5 score. I don’t buy in to excuses when it comes to dealing with members of the public. If people are handing over their money to you in exchange for a food item then they are doing it with the faith that it will have been cooked and prepared in an area that is hygienic and unlikely to make them ill.
    If you don’t love your business enough to want to be the best that you possibly can then close your doors because you’ll make someone sick or worse still – kill them.

  13. Here are some answers for you; Revealed: The reasons why Cardiff restaurants scored zero for food hygiene

    “Inspectors found: mouse-infested eateries; rotting food; open drains; meat and poultry kept at the wrong temperature; workers cleaning with filthy cloths; chefs not washing hands; broken freezers; restaurants without hot water and kitchens opening onto toilets.

    The ratings are handed out after inspections by Cardiff council food safety officers and reveal habitual bad practice that could potentially lead to contamination.”

    All points I’ve made previously.

  14. Ok, well if you believe there are no excuses, then surely anyone not getting 5/5 should be shut down immediately. You might find your choices of where to eat have reduced somewhat though :)

    Nate, that’s the same page I linked to :)

    Nevertheless, it’s a useful insight and I look forward to reading more informed journalism on the subject.

  15. Probiotics are essential for our body because they help in synthesizing certain fatty acids and vitamins in the body to support a healthy body and strong immune system.

    The majority of dieters want to see weight loss
    instantly and will use every resource initially to lose this weight.
    - People who are vegetarians and can’t find the proper sources to supplement their diet.

  16. Thank you a lot for sharing this with all of us you actually recognize what you are speaking about!
    Bookmarked. Please additionally seek advice from my web site =).

    We may have a link trade arrangement among us

  17. If some one needs to be updated with most up-to-date technologies
    after that he must be go to see this web site and be up to date all the time.

  18. My developer is trying to persuade me to move to .net from PHP.
    I have always disliked the idea because of the costs. But he’s tryiong none the less.
    I’ve been using Movable-type on a variety of websites for about a year and
    am anxious about switching to another platform. I have heard fantastic things about blogengine.net.
    Is there a way I can import all my wordpress posts into it?
    Any kind of help would be greatly appreciated!

  19. Thanks for another magnificent post. The place else may
    just anybody get that kind of information in such a perfect way of
    writing? I have a presentation subsequent week, and I’m at the search for such info.

  20. My brother suggested I might like this blog. He was totally right.

    This post truly made my day. You can not imagine just how much time I
    had spent for this info! Thanks!

  21. It enables their business website tto compete with other similar businesses in the area where a local listinhg search is performed.
    People will find yyou based oon whast you ecactly offer.
    “Social votes” are becoming more important tban the traditional link popularity concept.

  22. This will help your medical csre providesr reecommend the right treatment for you.
    These montors are cheaper compared to the digital monitors but are quiet accurate.

    Be sure to consult your doctor about the methodology.

  23. I was recommended this blog by my cousin. I am not sure
    whether this post is written by him as nobody else
    know such detailed about my difficulty. You are wonderful!
    Thanks!

  24. After all, youu do not really know the success of
    the site until a few months hawve passed.

    Depending on thee site offering the survey, they mayy not pay much.
    However, if you arre a tue marketer, you can’t let
    your fear keep you from this evolution.

  25. But it mmay require an an experienced coder to set uup and addd features.
    Well, the right answer is SEO ruuns in parallel with design and development.
    A key point for non-tech sire owners: bots wouldn’t know an attractive site if it bit its digital butt.

  26. Very few coffee maksrs available reach that optimal temperature so
    shop carefully and make sure the maximum temperature is listed.

    To make this procedure mch simpler and fool proof the Jura capresso ena
    5 comes withs Capresso’s froth – Xpress making system which automatically
    delivers milk from any milk container,steams and froths the milk depending on the
    progrmming you have chosen either cappuccino or latte and the
    end result is every time the same flawless rich creamy froth and no wasted milk.
    Plus, for those who want to, yyou will find sites where you could discover Starbucks recipes foor many
    of the truly delicious food which they offer.

Leave a Comment.