In the wake of the 2005 South Wales E. coli outbreak that sickened 168 people, there is widespread disappointment among consumers that restaurant and takeout businesses will not be forced to display their food hygiene score to customers.
According to WalesOnline, this finding came from a consumer survey commissioned by the Food Standards Agency which took the controversial decision to allow takeaways, cafes, shops, and restaurants to hide poor ratings from customers.
According to the UK’s Food Standards Agency, “The primary purpose of these Scores on the Doors schemes is to allow consumers to make informed choices about the places in which they eat out and from which they purchase food, and, through this, to encourage businesses to improve hygiene standards.”
A consumer watchdog said the survey was proof the display of cleanliness ratings given under the agency’s new “scores on the doors” scheme should be mandatory.
A spokeswoman said: “The scheme is neither intended to punish non compliance nor be an additional enforcement tool for local authorities. There are other, more appropriate, enforcement options available.”
The agency behind the scheme–the Food Standards Agency–also commissioned the survey and said forcing the display of scores had been opposed by the industry and that there would be a delay in implementing the Scores on Doors program. Speeding up the process was not in line with the principle of better regulation.
“We believe that as awareness of the national scheme grows, consumers will make their own judgments about a business failing to display its score and that this will encourage businesses to display them.”
“We do, however, propose to keep this voluntary approach under review,” reported the agency.
As scores come in, they will be posted on a Website. Scores from 0 (for the worse hygiene) to 5 will be awarded to all food businesses by council environmental health inspectors.
The Food Standards Agency asked members of the public across Britain what they thought of the scheme and researchers noted there was, “unanimous disappointment that it would not be mandatory for food businesses to display their food hygiene rating on their premises”.
Jennie Bibbings, senior policy advocate at Consumer Focus Wales, said: “The agency’s research found that as far as consumers are concerned, the value of this scheme is not about identifying places where hygiene is very good–there are already hygiene award schemes for that.”
“The real value of the scheme is in giving people the information they need to decide where to eat and, where they would rather not eat.”
“This is why the display of scores needs to be mandatory, because otherwise it will be all too easy for badly performing businesses to hide their rating, which will deny consumers that choice.”