More than one in every 15 food businesses across England, Wales and Northern Ireland have a hygiene rating of two of lower, according to a report on data from across the United Kingdom.

High Speed Training investigated how regions, towns and cities compared. The Yorkshire based e-learning provider looked at the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS) and extracted Food Standards Agency (FSA) data for a quarter of a million businesses to provide an overall picture. FHRS gives customers an idea of how well a premises complies with food hygiene standards.

Environmental health officers from the local government agencies visit businesses between every six months and two years, depending on the level of risk involved. The officers inspect the establishments to ensure they comply with food safety regulations and give a rating based on their findings.

Hygienic food handling, physical condition of the site, and food safety management are combined to make a food hygiene rating from zero to five. Zero means “urgent improvement” is necessary. Five means “very good.”

While one in every 15 businesses across England, Wales and Northern Ireland have an overall rating of two or lower, suggesting they required improvement, only one in every 30 sites involved concerns on physical handling of food.

In Wales and Northern Ireland it is compulsory for businesses to display their food hygiene rating, but that rule does not apply in England. Wales and Northern Ireland both have an overall higher food hygiene rating than England.

Scotland’s system is called the Food Hygiene Information Scheme (FHIS). There, after an environmental health officer has reviewed safety systems in place, observed food hygiene in practice and spoken with staff, businesses are given either a rating of “pass” or “improvement required.” Displaying the ratings on site isn’t required by law, but they can be viewed online.

Lee Batchelor, who led the data team on the project, said ratings are based on more than just personal hygiene.

“There are different areas of inspection and the schemes do have their limitations. It’s just about understanding that and knowing where to get the right information. Our report aims to improve consumers’ understanding of the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme and the Scottish Food Hygiene Information Scheme so they can make informed decisions around where to eat and drink,” he said.

Regional performance
Harrogate came in at the top with an average rating of 4.85, followed by Hastings with 4.82, and Southport in third place. The top three large cities with more than 1,000 establishments were Nottingham, Belfast and Newcastle upon Tyne. For regions, Northern Ireland was first, followed by South West and East Midlands.

Only Ipswich, Burton upon Trent, and Winchester improved or maintained their average rating in the 2018-19 inspections, with all other towns and cities across England, Wales and Northern Ireland receiving lower ratings.

Walsall, Luton, Birmingham and Bolton had the lowest average scores on the towns and cities table. One in five Birmingham establishments had a rating of two or lower. London was last in the regional table, with Barking and Dagenham scoring an average of 3.43.

One limitation of the ranking system is that inspections give only a snapshot of businesses, meaning the ratings may not be reflective of day-to-day running, according to High Speed Training.

It can take up to six months for premises to be re-visited following an unsatisfactory rating and a further 28 days for any change to be reflected publicly.

Data was downloaded on Jan. 25 from the FSA. Four of 14 business types were included. A total of 239,783 establishments were used for the overall ranking analysis.

Takeaway restaurants and sandwich shops were the biggest offenders across the U.K., with one in nine rated two or lower.

Almost 7 percent of takeaways and sandwich shops across England, Northern Ireland, and Wales require ‘major’ or ‘urgent’ improvement (a rating of one or lower).

Just Eat, a takeaway food delivery service, announced in February that any zero-rated restaurants listed on its platform would have until May 1 to improve their hygiene rating or they would be removed.

The company will work with restaurants on its platform with an official rating of zero, one or two to help them improve. Any restaurants signing up are now required to have a minimum food hygiene rating of 3 or be registered with the FSA and awaiting inspection.

Warning about food hygiene scam
Meanwhile, the FSA has urged vigilance after reports of a person claiming to be from the agency or local authority approaching businesses demanding money for a food hygiene re-rating and warning failure to pay will result in a fine.

The scam has been reported to three local authorities in Wales and one in England. Local authorities may charge only when a re-rating inspection is requested by the food business.

Angela Towers, head of the food hygiene rating team at the FSA, said: “Although the number of reports of this particular scam are low, we are concerned that businesses may lose money to fraudsters pretending to be from the FSA or a local authority.

“If you are approached by someone asking you to hand over money in this way, do not make any payment and always advise your local authority.”

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