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Food Hygiene Rating Scheme

The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme helps you choose where to eat out or shop for food. The scheme gives you information about the hygiene standards in restaurants, pubs, cafés, takeaways, hotels, and other places you like to go to eat out, as well as supermarkets and other food shops.

How does the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme work?

The scheme is being run by East Herts Council in partnership with the Food Standards Agency (the central Government Department with responsibility for food safety).  It will give you information about the hygiene standards in food premises at the time they are inspected by one of our food safety officers to check that they are meeting legal requirements on food hygiene. The hygiene rating given reflects what the officer finds at the time.

It's not easy to judge hygiene standards on appearance alone so the rating gives you an idea of what's going on in the kitchen, or behind closed doors.  You can check the ratings and use the information to choose a place with higher standards.  It's also good to share this information with friends and family.

Why is the scheme important?

Providing information on hygiene standards in food outlets gives people a wider basis on which to make a choice.  It also recognises those businesses with the highest standards and encourages others to improve.  The overall aim is to reduce the number of cases of food poisoning which currently affects around one million people in the UK every year. 

The scheme helps local people and visitors to the area when deciding where to eat and buy food. The scheme runs nationally which means people can make like for like comparison with businesses in other areas.  It also means businesses are treated consistently with local competitors and with their competitors more widely. 

Which businesses are given a rating?

Restaurants, takeaways, cafés, sandwich shops, pubs, hotels, supermarkets and other retail food outlets, as well as other businesses where consumers can eat or buy food, are given a hygiene rating as part of the scheme.

How is the rating calculated?

Each business is given a rating following an inspection by a food safety officer.  This is based on how well the business is meeting the requirements of food hygiene law at that time. The assessment is based on a consideration of the following three elements:

  • how hygienically the food is handled - safe food preparation, cooking, re-heating, cooling and storage
  • the condition of the structure of the premises - cleanliness, repair, layout, lighting, ventilation and other facilities
  • how the business manages 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 to you is safe to eat.

The rating is only about the hygiene standards of the food business - it is not about the quality of the food or about the standards of service provided to customers.

What are the different ratings?

The food hygiene rating reflects the hygiene standards found at the time the business is inspected by a food safety officer.  These officers are specially trained and qualified to assess food hygiene standards. 

A business is given one of these ratings: 

  • 5 - Very Good
  • 4 - Good
  • 3 - Generally Satisfactory
  • 2 - Improvement Necessary
  • 1 - Major Improvement Necessary
  • 0 - Urgent Improvement Necessary

The rating given shows how well the business is doing overall but also takes account of the element or elements most in need of improving and also the level of risk to people's health that these issues pose. This is because some businesses will do well in some areas and less well in others but each of the three elements checked is essential for making sure that food hygiene standards meet requirements and the food served or sold to you is safe to eat. All businesses should be able achieve the top rating of 5.

To get the top rating of '5', businesses must do well in all three elements. 

Those with ratings of '0' are very likely to be performing poorly in all three elements and are likely to have a history of serious problems.  There may, for example, be a lack of sufficient cleaning and disinfection, and the system of management in place may not be enough to ensure the food is always kept safe.

Where a business does not achieve the top rating, the food safety officer will explain to the person that owns or manages the business what improvements are needed.

Where will the food hygiene rating be displayed?

Food Hygiene ratings are listed on the Food Standards Agency website.

You can search for ratings for local businesses and for businesses elsewhere in England, and also in Wales and Northern Ireland. 

Businesses are also given a window sticker and certificate showing their rating and are encouraged to display these at their premises in places where you can easily see them when you visit.  In England, display is voluntary at the moment so not all businesses may have put their sticker up in the window or on the door but, if you don't see it, you can ask them.

What does a business need to do to get the top food hygiene rating?

All business should be able to get the top rating.  To get this, you must be able to demonstrate very good compliance with legal requirements for food hygiene.  The level of compliance will be assessed by the food safety officer when your business is inspected.  

How can a business demonstrate that food is handled hygienically?

You can do this by showing, for example, that:

  • there are high standards of personal hygiene of staff - for example, clean over clothing (such as aprons), appropriate headwear, minimal jewellery and regular and appropriate hand-washing
  • control measures are in place to prevent cross contamination - for example, use of separate areas and equipment for handling and preparing raw and cooked foods, and correct use of appropriate cleaning chemicals
  • foods are stored at the correct temperature - for example, food stored in fridges is maintained at less than 8°C and that the chill chain is protected
  • foods are properly cooked, re-heated and cooled - for example, foods are cooked to 75°C or hotter and are checked visually for signs of thorough cooking, and foods are cooled quickly to 8°C or below and kept at a safe temperature until used

What about the condition and structure of the premises?

There should, for example, be:

  • a suitable structure which is clean and in good repair throughout the premises
  • adequate natural/artificial lighting and ventilation
  • adequate proofing against pest entry
  • adequate facilities including: wash basins, toilet(s) and, where necessary, sink(s)

What about how the business manages and documents what it does to make sure food is safe?

It is a legal requirement for most food businesses to provide documentary evidence that the food they produce is safe. This should:

  • identify and show an understanding of the food safety hazards (microbiological, physical and chemical) within the business
  • provide evidence that measures have been taken to effectively control these hazards and that these measures are reviewed as appropriate
  • provide evidence that all food handlers are supervised and instructed and/or trained in food hygiene matters in order that they produce food that is safe to eat

The Food Standards Agency has produced systems to help create a documented food safety management system. These are suitable for many types of food business, but not all.  You are advised to discuss what is suitable for your business with one of our food safety officers on 01279 655261 or by email environmental.health@eastherts.gov.uk 

How can a business improve its rating?

All businesses should be able to get the top rating. To help get this you should:

  • look at your last food hygiene inspection report to check that you've taken all of the actions needed to meet legal requirements - if you can't find your last report, contact us at 01279 655261 or by email environmental.health@eastherts.gov.uk and we will be able to give you a copy
  • continue making regular routine checks to ensure hygiene standards are being maintained and staff understand and are following the rules, and promptly arrange for any repairs or maintenance of the premises or equipment  
  • ensure your documented food safety management system is kept up to date and all necessary records and checks completed and recorded  
  • at your next inspection, if you don't get the top rating and you have queries about the improvements you need to make to get a better rating, then the food safety officer will be able to give you advice

The Food Standards Agency has a range of tools that can help you manage food hygiene. You can find out more on the Food Standards Agency website.

Making sure the scheme is fair

To make sure the scheme is fair it includes a number of safeguards. 

Appeals

You can appeal if you think your hygiene rating is wrong - in other words it does not reflect the hygiene standards found at the time of your inspection. You must lodge your appeal with your local authority within 21 days - including weekends and bank holiday - of being told what your hygiene rating is. You'll need to make your appeal in writing.  You can do this by sending us an email or a letter or you can download and complete the Food Hygiene Rating - Appeal form [94kb] and send that to us. 

Right to Reply

You can submit a 'right to reply' if you've improved hygiene standards since your inspection, or if there were unusual circumstances at the time of the inspection and you want to explain this to your customers. You can include your comments in an email or letter or you can download and complete the Food Hygiene Rating - Right to Reply form [124kb] and send that to us.  We will publish your comments alongside your rating at  Food Standards Agency - Food Hygiene Ratings 

Re-inspection

You can ask for re-inspection to get a new rating if you make the improvements to hygiene standards that the food safety officer told you about at your last inspection. You'll need to do this in writing and supply evidence of the improvements made. You can make your request by email or letter or you can download and complete the  Food Hygiene Rating - Request for Revisit form [127kb]. The food safety officer will re-assess hygiene standards and give you a new rating - this could go up but it could stay the same or it could go down.

Displaying your rating is good for business

To make your rating good for business make sure you display your rating sticker and put it in a place where your customers can easily see it, for example, in a window or on the door. This immediately reassures them that your business takes food hygiene seriously. If you've lost, damaged or misplaced your sticker, contact us and we can provide you with a new one.

It's what customers look for - Food Standards Agency research has shown that people are becoming more aware of the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme and are actively looking for hygiene rating stickers when they are out and about.

There's a profit to be made - an increasing number of food businesses are displaying their hygiene rating stickers and more than a third of them say that this is having a positive impact. This includes greater customer confidence, better reputation among customers and, most importantly, more customers.

Where can I get further information?

You can read about the scheme on the  Food Standard Agency website and watch a short video.