Postcode lottery on food hygiene ratings

A new Which? investigation reveals that food hygiene is a postcode lottery, as we launch an interactive map showing the local authorities that are failing to ensure their businesses meet required standards.

Around half a million of us suffer food poisoning each year and 12 months on from when we last assessed local authorities on their food enforcement work, we have once again found some areas of the country are falling well below basic food hygiene requirements. In some of the worst performing local authorities, you might as well toss a coin before deciding which restaurant to trust with your health.

We looked at 398 local authorities in the UK and, using the latest data they submitted to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), we produced an interactive map ranking them on how they are performing on food safety enforcement.

We found Enfield in London was the poorest performing local authority with only 54% of its medium and high risk businesses meeting hygiene requirements. The City Of Edinburgh was second to bottom, with five other London councils in our bottom 10 (Lewisham, Ealing, Harrow, Camden and Brent). Some local authorities are performing well. Cherwell District Council in North Oxfordshire was rated as the best performing local authority for a second year running. Compared to last year, Newark and Sherwood is the most improved local authority, with Fylde Borough Council having deteriorated the most.

Businesses are ultimately responsible for complying with hygiene rules but local authorities are tasked with enforcing compliance. More than nine in 10 (96%) people said it is important that local authorities ensure compliance with food hygiene rules.

Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said:

“Our research reveals a shocking postcode lottery on food hygiene where in some places you may as well toss a coin before deciding which restaurant to trust with your health. Consumers expect local authorities to check that food businesses in their area comply with hygiene standards and rigorously enforce the rules.

“Local authorities should do more to make the best use of limited resources, respond effectively to risks across the food supply chain and ensure consumers are adequately protected wherever they live.”

Notes to editors

1.       Using the 2013/14 Local Authority Enforcement Monitoring System (LAEMS) hygiene database collected by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), we rated 398 Local authorities in the UK.

2.       The top 10 local authorities on food enforcement are:

1 Cherwell (best)
2 Brentwood
3 Broxbourne
4 Basingstoke and Deane
5 Hartlepool
6 Ballymena
7 Gwynedd
8 Rossendale
9 High Peak
10 Weymouth and Portland

3.       The bottom 10 local authorities on food enforcement are:

1 Enfield (worst)
2 City of Edinburgh
3 Lewisham
4 Ealing
5 Harrow
6 Perth and Kinross
7 Falkirk
8 Birmingham
9 Camden
10 Brent

4.       We based our rankings on three criteria: the proportion of premises ranked as high or medium risk in a local authority that were compliant with food hygiene requirements; the percentage of premises that had been rated for risk; and the proportion of inspections and other follow ups that were carried out by local authority inspectors. We scored each local authority against the UK average for each of the three criteria, and then combined those scores giving 50% of the weighting to the percentage of compliant high and medium risk premises – as their main purpose is to ensure compliance – and 25% of the weighting to each of the other two criteria.

5.       When a business opens it should be given a risk rating of A (high) to E (low). This rating is determined by a number of factors, including the type of establishment, the type of people it serves, how many people it serves and the competence of the management. The rating given determines how often the premise is inspected, with highest-risk premises being inspected every six months and the lowest risk only every five years.

6.       Populus, on behalf of Which?, surveyed  2791 UK adults online between 14th and 15th January 2015. Data were weighted to be demographically representative* of the UK population. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

7.       The results of our 2012/13 research can be found here.

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