A scheme which rates food premises on a scale of 0-5 is being acclaimed as a national success by the Wales Heads of Environmental Health Group (WHoEHG).
Before 2010, local authorities in Wales operated individual inspection schemes for food premises, however all 22 authorities then took the decision to operate a single scheme. In November 2013, Welsh Government made the scheme mandatory and all food businesses are now required to display their food hygiene rating in a prominent place, normally at the entrance, or face a fine or prosecution with proceeds from fixed penalties going to the Welsh Government.
Ratings are awarded following inspection by Food Safety Officers who examine the level of compliance with the law in relation to:
- how hygienically the food is handled – how it is prepared, cooked, re-heated, cooled and stored
- the condition of the structure of the buildings – the cleanliness, layout, lighting, ventilation and other facilities
- how the business manages and records what it does to make sure food is safe
The ratings awarded by local authority officers following inspection are then made available to the Food Standards Agency which publishes them on their website. So far, 23540 businesses have now received a hygiene rating.
Councillor Bob Derbyshire, Cabinet member with responsibility for Environmental Health Policy said:
“The success of this scheme is the simple format which instantly allows consumers to make a judgement about whether or not to give the business their custom. People can have faith in the fact that the premises have been fully inspected and that the rating is a fair reflection of the hygiene standards being practiced. The significant increase in the number of premises being given the maximum 5 rating shows that the scheme is working.”
Since the scheme was adopted nationally in Wales, the number of businesses given the maximum rating of 5, which is classed as “very good”, has increased by almost 20% and many of these have reported that a good rating has significantly increased their takings. Conversely, the number of businesses rated 0 -2 have declined by a third since the introduction of the mandatory scheme.
A further benefit of the scheme is that those businesses awarded a low rating, are identified for assistance in order to improve their hygiene rating. Where businesses co-operate in order to achieve genuine improvements, they are encouraged to request a re-rating inspection. In cases where businesses do not co-operate, by attempting to hide or obscure their rating sticker for example, enforcement action is taken.
In future, the rating scheme is set to be used to filter businesses attending the many food festivals and farmers markets that take place across Wales. This follows the Welsh Government’s Action Plan for the Food and Drink Industry 2014-20 which identified the Welsh food supply chain as one of the largest business sectors employing over 170,000 people. In November 2014, the rating scheme will be extended to business to business trade which means that almost everyone from small producers to factories will be included. It is hoped that the system will prove to be another mechanism which small businesses can use to promote themselves and thereby help to sustain local markets.