When entering eateries in Birmingham (and in fact the rest of the England, Wales, and Northern Ireleand) many of you will have seen a tripadvisor style rating from the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS) in the window or on the door. A business can be rated 0-5, with 0 meaning ‘urgent improvement required’ and 5 meaning ‘very good’. There’s been considerable noise from the local restaurateurs and foodies lately around the scheme, with some of them being less than impressed at not scoring a 5. Several times we’ve heard comments like “it’s a load of rubbish, you can get a 1 just because a bit of paperwork isn’t up to date”. We weren’t sure how true that was, so we thought we’d give you some background so you can decide for yourselves whether to pay it any attention.
Birmingham local authority have reviewed over 6,400 venues and the results are available on the the Scores on the Doors website here. Venues are not legally compelled to display the score (although they will soon be in Wales), but you can easily check for a venue’s score online.
The riskiest categories of venue can be inspected as often as every six months, but other types of venue may only be inspected once every two years. The food safety officer inspecting a business checks how well the business is meeting the law by looking at:
- Food Hygiene & Safety – how hygienically the food is handled – how it is prepared, cooked, re-heated, cooled and stored;
- Structural Compliance – the condition of the structure of the buildings – the cleanliness, layout, lighting, ventilation and other facilities;
- Confidence in Management – how the business manages and records what it does to make sure food is safe and so that the officer can be confident standards will be maintained in the future.
Each of these three elements is essential for making sure that food hygiene standards meet requirements and the food served or sold is safe to eat. On the website you can see how the venue scored for each of these categories. Personally, I’m more bothered about the Food Hygiene category than the other two, but I’d certainly expect high-end venues to be scoring a 4 or 5. If they’re not then they’re surely showing contempt to the Food Standards Agency and to me as a punter forking over considerable amounts of cash for top end nosh.
If a venue does score low the Food Standards Authority will work closely with them to try and improve the score, and will re-score it at the request of the venue – so they don’t have to wait the normal time period to get re-scored if they’ve worked hard to make improvements.
Emma Richbell, Environmental Health Officer commented:
“There are lots of different elements that are important to look at during an inspection on a food business. From the moment I walk in the door, I start getting a general impression of how the food business is run – but often, it’s not until I look beyond the front of house that problems can present themselves.
“Of course, it’s crucial for businesses to be able to prove that food is prepared and stored correctly: for example, that there are good standards of cleanliness around preparation areas, fridges and freezers are at the correct temperatures and that food is labelled and stored correctly. But there’s much more to it – it’s important that ventilation and lighting enables a safe working environment for staff and that food hygiene records are up to date.
“Every business is able to get a 5 – it’s about ensuring that correct practices are followed and the basic principles are the same whether it’s a one-man burger van or a fine dining restaurant.”
So the next time it’s 3am and you’re contemplating that dodgy burger joint, check its Score on the Door to avoid unsafe food… Who are we kidding, eh? At 3am, who’s going to care?! I’ve eaten at Mr. Egg (“Eat like a king for £1.50”)! I didn’t need a Score on the Door to know that was a bad idea! But do look before you book the next time you’re making a reservation by checking the FHRS website, and see whether or not there are any surprises from your favourites (sadly, there are quite a few).
On the FSA website here you can find links to their apps on both Android and iPhone, so if you have a smart phone you can check ratings of venues while you’re on the move.