With a variety of food businesses in Huntingdonshire, it can often be hard to know where is clean and safe to eat, which is why a team of inspectors visit more than 2,000 premises to give a hygiene rating. But what do the numbers mean? Reporter Sophie Day speaks to inspector Keith Lawson about what he and his staff look for.
Food hygiene inspections are carried out in restaurants, bars, pubs, cafes, takeaways, hospitals, hotels, and even chemists.
The inspections are run by Huntingdonshire District Council, in partnership with the Food Standards Agency (FSA), to check businesses are meeting the requirements of food hygiene law.
Premises are given a food hygiene rating ranging from zero to five based on the findings of inspections and this information is made publically available by the FSA.
But when deciding the rating it isn’t just about the quality of food, as commercial team leader Keith Lawson and officers have a host of criteria to consider when making a visit, including observing things that customers don’t always get to see.
“There are a huge percentage of those businesses that are registered with us that are rated five. A business doesn’t have to be perfect to get a five but it has to do a few things very well,” Mr Lawson said.
“They [inspectors] have to look after the business physically. This includes cleaning, repair maintenance and general standards of cleanliness.
“The officers have to make sure that they people that work there are handling, cooking, and preparing food safely.”
In doing this the inspectors will be able to identify foreseeable incidences of food poisoning or injury as a consequence of consumption of contaminated food.
Surprisingly, inspectors will also look at whether the business owner, since being in charge of the premise, has a good track record.
“We will look at the confidence in their management of the business, which includes their track record - if they have a historical good track record then that will contribute.
“The business also by law has to have some written procedures and records as to what they are doing and why this will be checked thoroughly.”
If the business entirely fails to do even one of these sections then they can be handed a zero rating and action will be taken to work with the business to improve standards.
“Customers need to think about the rating. If a business is rated at zero there must have been some very serious things wrong at the time the inspection was carried out but they also need to look at the date the inspection was carried out. The longer ago the inspection was carried out the more likelihood that some of those terrible things will be have been corrected,” Mr Lawson said.
According to Mr Lawson a business that is handed a three star rating will have “things wrong but these are not serious”.
As the visits are unannounced, in most circumstances, businesses are also given the chance to be re-inspected by sending evidence to the council that all improvements have been made and a £90 fee is paid.
Currently, it is not legal requirement for premises in England to display its food hygiene rating, unlike in Wales, but the FSA is currently fighting for that to change.
To find out the rating of any food premises in Huntingdonshire and beyond go to www.food.gov.uk.