Which? is calling for greater transparency about food hygiene ratings, as new research from the consumer champion reveals the best and worst areas of the UK for takeaway and restaurant food hygiene.
With around 2.4 million people in the UK suffering from foodborne disease each year, food hygiene standards are an important consideration for people ordering takeaway food during the coronavirus lockdown. While thousands of restaurants and cafes across the country have been forced to shut their doors due to the pandemic, many have switched to offering home delivery as a way of reaching customers.
Which? looked at Food Standards Agency data for 384 local council areas in the UK and found food businesses in parts of London, along with Birmingham, Southend, Mansfield and Bolton were the worst in the country for hygiene.
In England, Gloucester City was the best area to eat out with 90 per cent of food businesses achieving the top rating of five for food hygiene. This was closely followed by the Isles of Scilly and Mid-Devon, both in the South-West, where 89 per cent of food businesses had received a five rating.
England’s five worst areas for food hygiene were all in London. In Ealing, nearly one in five (18%) food businesses received a zero, one or two rating for food hygiene. Which? also found a similar proportion of poorly rated food businesses in Enfield (16%), Lambeth (16%), Redbridge (15%) and Waltham Forest (14%).
Other areas with a high proportion of food businesses, including takeaways or restaurants, scoring a two rating or less included Birmingham (14%), Southend-on-Sea (14%), Bolton (11%), Mansfield (11%), Middlesbrough (10%) and Slough (10%).
In Scotland, which has its own food hygiene rating system, Stirling had a near-perfect 98 per cent of food businesses rated “pass”. But at the other end of the scale, around a quarter (24%) of food businesses in Aberdeen City were given an “improvement required” rating.
England and Scotland are the only parts of the UK where it is not mandatory for food businesses to display their food hygiene ratings – making it much harder for consumers to find out if a restaurant or takeaway has acceptable food hygiene standards.
When Which? visited 243 food establishments on 14 high streets in and around London, researchers were concerned to discover that only around half (124) displayed their hygiene rating at all.
Even more worryingly, one in 10 (12%) of those displayed ratings that differed to the official ratings stated on the FSA website. Which? found several food businesses with a zero, one or two rating displaying a four or five-rating.
According to the FSA, only half (52%) of businesses in England display their food hygiene ratings compared to more than four in five in Wales (87%) and Northern Ireland (84%).
Evidence suggests that making it a requirement for food businesses to display their hygiene rating can improve standards across the board. Since 2013 when the display of hygiene ratings became mandatory in Wales, the proportion of restaurants with five ratings has increased by 23 per cent.
Which? is concerned consumers risk being left in the dark or misled about hygiene standards and is calling for the mandatory display of hygiene ratings in food business across the whole of the UK, so consumers can make informed choices when dining out.
Food businesses, including takeaways and restaurants, should be required to display an up to date food hygiene rating both on the premises and anywhere they have an online presence for customers ordering food from home.
The regulator should also be prepared to take strong action against food establishments displaying incorrect ratings that risk misleading consumers.
While some councils have a high proportion of poorly rated food businesses, consumers will still be able to find some hygienic food premises and can use the FSA’s online database or Food Hygiene Rating app to check ratings before ordering a takeaway or eating out.
Lisa Barber, Which? Magazine Editor, said:
“Our research has found that while some areas are blessed with impressive food hygiene levels across the board, others have large numbers of food businesses, including restaurants and takeaways, with sloppy standards that risk making customers seriously ill.
“There is strong evidence to suggest that food businesses up their game when they know they will have to prominently display their hygiene rating. It must urgently become mandatory for food businesses, including restaurants and takeaways, to display their score on the premises and online, so customers can make informed choices.”
Notes to editor
Using data from the Food Standards Agency, Which? collated and analysed the proportion of food establishments within 384 local councils with a five-rating and zero, one and two rating. Data collected and analysed 2nd March.
The councils with the highest proportion of food businesses with five-ratings were ranked among the best, while councils with the highest proportion of food businesses with zero, one and two ratings were ranked among the worst.
For Scotland, the councils with the highest proportion of food businesses with “pass” ratings were ranked among the best, while the councils with the highest proportion of food businesses with “improvements required” ratings were ranked among the worst.
The Food Standards Agency rates food business according to the below criteria:
0 – Urgent improvement necessary Includes serious food hygiene breaches, dirty and no record of safety systems meaning people’s health is at risk.
1 – Major improvements necessary A number of breaches to food hygiene and lack of training for staff.
2 – Improvement necessary Some concerns around handling practices and the facilities that need changing quickly.
3 – Generally satisfactory Practices for maintaining safety standards are good, but there’s still room for improvement. No immediate threat to health.
4 – Good The business has good food hygiene practices and safety systems in place with just a few minor areas for improvement.
5 – Very good Excellent hygiene practices and safety systems in place.
In Scotland, food businesses are rated according to the below criteria:
- Pass or Pass/Eat Safe – the business met the legal requirements for food hygiene.
- Improvement Required – the business didn’t meet the legal requirements and needs to make improvements.
In order to check the hygiene rating where businesses aren’t providing it, use the FSA’s website: https://ratings.food.gov.uk/ or download the Food Hygiene Rating app.
In Scotland, use Food Standards Scotland’s search tool: https://www.foodstandards.gov.scot/consumers/food-safety/buying-food-eating-out/food-hygiene-information-scheme
Please see a link to an interactive map to see how all councils performed here: https://infogram.com/food-ratings-map-1h9j6ql5x71v2gz?live
Please see below a list of the best and worst area for food hygiene by nation and region: