Food hygiene is a crucial parameter for judging the quality of food that is served in restaurants and hotels. To ensure that a high standard of hygiene is maintained, the government of UK has started a system called the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme which is binding on all food joints, restaurant chains and hotels in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

There are several online courses available for businesses to get an in-depth knowledge of the process by which they can achieve the topmost rating according to this scheme.

However, before joining a course, it is important to know what exactly is this Food Hygiene Rating Scheme and how does it work.

Concept behind the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme

The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme is overseen by the Food Standards Agency and is run in partnership with local agencies. It is meant to provide you with a clear idea regarding the standard of hygiene of a particular business dealing with food and beverages. The main purpose of this rating scheme is to make food hygienic and fit for consumption.

How does the process of rating work?

The Food Hygiene Rating scheme follows a scale of 0 to 5 to determine the hygiene level of a food joint. Each rating point implies a particular standard of hygiene. The next time you visit a restaurant, you should always keep a lookout for the hygiene rating to make an informed choice and ensure safety of your health.

Here's what the individual rating points indicate:

0- Need of urgent improvement

1- Considerable improvement is required

2- Some areas need improvement

3- Standard of hygiene is satisfactory

4- Standard of hygiene is good

5- Standard of hygiene is excellent

It is mandatory for businesses to place stickers of these ratings on display in England. However, in Northern Ireland and Wales, this is not compulsory though the food hygiene rating scheme is a part of the governing law.

However, as the scheme is run in conjunction with local agencies, the Environment Health Food Safety Officer may calculate the hygiene standard on a scale of 0 to 25. In this case, 0 refers to the perfectly hygienic level and a rating of 25 implies very poor hygiene standards. Final scores are calculated on the basis of compliance to three categories:

- Hygiene

- Management

- Structure

Only of all three categories reflect satisfactory results, a high rating is granted by the Officer in charge.

A little more information about these categories:

Hygiene involves a strict checking of the processes of preparing, cooking, cooling, reheating and storing of food. Confidence and expertise in management are specifically assessed. It generally involves maintenance of records by the staff regarding the cleaning of the premises and compliance to rules for food safety. The officer checks the efficiency of the staff and their awareness regarding this process. Lastly, structure refers upkeep of the premises of the business. This involves management of pests, ventilation, cleanliness, layout, facilities and lighting.

What is not included in the rating scheme?

The food hygiene rating scheme does not provide information regarding the following:

- Customer service

- Presentation of food

- Food quality

- Comfort level

- Culinary skills of the cook

It is important to remember that the rating scheme is only meant for checking hygiene standards of a business and nothing else.

Which places are given ratings?

Places that sell or supply food items and customers consume them are the ones which need to be rated. The final document of the rating is given by the FSA 14 days after the inspection. Here's a short list of places which are supposed to follow the rating scheme.

  • Cafes, pubs and restaurants
  • Food stalls, vans and takeaway joints
  • Hotels and Canteens
  • Food shops and supermarkets
  • Schools, care homes and hospitals

How are these ratings displayed?

The sticker containing the rating needs to be displayed upfront by businesses. The front cover of the sticker clearly shows the rating given to that business on the basis of the level of hygiene and other factors. On the back side, the date of inspection is printed so that the reliability of the rating can be ascertained. The overall rating indicates how well a business is doing during the time of inspection in terms of hygiene standards. These stickers can be ordered on through the website of FSA.

Exceptions to this scheme

There are certain businesses which are exempted by the Food Standards Agency from this scheme which include:

->> Businesses which do not pose a threat to public health and offer pre-wrapped food items that do not need to be refrigerated like chemist shops and newsagents

->> Caring services for the elderly and children

Though these exempted businesses are not given specific ratings by the agency, they are inspected by the officer to monitor improvement.

    How to get the top rating?

Now that you have a comprehensive idea about the concept of food hygiene rating scheme, you must be wondering about the ways in which you can acquire a 5 star rating for your business.

Here are some handy suggestions:

  • It is important to pay attention to the three categories of hygiene, management and structural maintenance. Your business should comply with the norms in all three elements.
  • The premises should be kept absolutely clean at all times with no signs of accumulated dirt or litter anywhere. Your staff should be given proper training regarding this.
  • Kitchens and washrooms are the areas which are under maximum scrutiny so extra attention should be given to them.

Ways to improve ratings

In case the local authorities give a rating of less than 5 to a business, it indicates scope for improvement. The officers themselves suggest various hygiene enforcement options according to the issue that the business is facing. In extreme cases where the hygiene standards are really poor and the food served is a risk for public health, the officer needs to make a tough call by either shutting down the business completely or allowing only a part of it to run.

How frequently are inspections done?

The local authorities conduct new inspections at least once every year. They consider factors like hygiene standards, type of food being served, number of customers and the social groups that they belong to and the process involved in preparing the food. Businesses serving food which is considered to be threat to public health are inspected more often than the others.

Food Hygiene and safety courses

A great way to improve the rating of your food business is to make your employees join a credible online food safety course to give them professional training during induction. Such a course makes them aware of all the guidelines that need to be followed and do not cause any loss in productivity as they are flexible. There are separate courses for direct manufacturing, catering and retail selling of food items.

Here are some of the top features of online food safety courses:

  • Imparting knowledge about personal hygiene, cleanliness of premises, waste management and pest control
  • Suggesting ways to avoid hazards while preparing or storing food
  • Providing an overview of the food hygiene rating scheme and explaining the process of inspection and rating
  • Recommending ways to improve hygiene rating of business
  • A broad overview of allergic reactions to additives and allergens in food and suggesting ways to reduce the risk of allergy

You can make your selection of a food safety course depending on the nature of your business. It is always advisable to take a free trial before buying a course to check out all its features.

Opt for a food safety course today and see the difference that it makes to your food hygiene rating!