The Local Government Association (LGA) has renewed calls for all businesses serving food in England to be forced to display food hygiene ratings.
Recent figures have shown half of businesses in England do not display such ratings on their premises.
LGA wants a change in legislation based on the mandatory display of ratings in Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as a rise in phone apps and online menus being used to order takeaway food.
The association called for government to extend the mandatory display to England, including to online businesses, and a fine or prosecution for those that fail to comply. Environmental health officers can already serve enforcement notices, prosecute and close food sites where conditions are poor.
LGA said an extension of the rules would improve consumer confidence and raise standards as well as reducing the need for and cost of enforcement action by councils.
Display became mandatory for Wales in November 2013 and for Northern Ireland in October 2016. In England businesses are encouraged but not required by law to display their rating. The Food Hygiene Information Scheme in Scotland is voluntary.
In the United States, local public health departments inspect businesses serving food to ensure restaurants and other retail outlets are following safe food handling procedures with frequency of inspection decided by local laws.
New York City requires restaurants to post letter grades that correspond to scores from sanitary inspections and grades must be displayed in restaurants in Georgia and Los Angeles. In Alabama, inspection reports and permits must be posted in view within the establishment. A numerical system on a 100-point scale is used with points deducted for each violation.
A Food Standards Agency (FSA) report this year found the rating was visible outside 49 percent of premises in England in 2017, compared to 84 percent in Wales and 82 percent in Northern Ireland. Reasons for non-display in England included because it is not compulsory; a lack of awareness they should display it; and having a low rating but the figure was up from 44 percent in 2016.
Heather Hancock, chair of the FSA, said plans are in place to make it mandatory to display hygiene ratings in premises and online in England.
“Mandatory display has already made a big difference in Wales and Northern Ireland, pushing up business hygiene standards and giving consumers greater confidence that their food is safe. We’re preparing the case for mandatory display in England and hope to see progress soon.”
Ratings are a snapshot of food hygiene standards at the time of inspection. Council environmental health teams score food outlets from zero to five based on factors such as kitchen cleanliness, cooking methods and food safety management.
Frequency of inspections depends on the potential risk to public health. Time between them varies from six months for the highest risk businesses to two years for lower risk companies.
Under the food hygiene rating scheme (FHRS), a business is given a score of 0-5. Five means the hygiene standards are very good and fully comply with the law and zero means urgent improvement is necessary.
In England, businesses with a higher rating are more likely to display than those with a lower one. Over two-thirds of those with a rating of 5 displayed their rating in 2017. This falls to a little over a quarter, 28 percent, for those that have a rating of 0-3.
In England, 10 percent are displaying a rating higher than in the FHRS database and 1 percent have a rating lower than in the database.
Councilor Simon Blackburn, chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said food hygiene laws need to be strengthened to drive up standards and protect people from being served unsafe food.
“With more people ordering takeaways online or on their phone, it should be mandatory for businesses in England to display food hygiene ratings on their menus online and on ‘apps’ as well as in their premises. This would remove the risk of customers being left in the dark on official kitchen cleanliness levels when eating or ordering food,” he said.
Blackburn said standards and compliance levels have risen since mandatory display was introduced in Wales and Northern Ireland.
“Making the display of hygiene ratings compulsory in England would incentivize food outlets to improve or maintain high hygiene standards, reduce the risk of illness for customers, improve consumer confidence and save taxpayers’ money by reducing the need for, and cost of, enforcement action by councils.”
Last year, the LGA said all food premises in England should be forced to display ‘Scores on the Doors’ ratings when EU rules on food safety are converted into UK law after Brexit.
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