Only one fourth of businesses in England with food hygiene ratings of zero to two are displaying their numbers, according to FSA research.

Almost three quarters of those with a 5 are displaying their rating compared to 45 percent with a 4 and 31 percent with a score of 3. Premises are awarded a rating based on food hygiene standards ranging from 0 (urgent improvement necessary) to 5 (very good).

The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS) is run by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and local authorities. Display became mandatory in Wales in November 2013 and October 2016 in Northern Ireland. In England, businesses are not required by law to display their ratings. The Food Hygiene Information Scheme (FHIS) covers Scotland.

Covert mystery shopping audits were done for 479 firms in England, 480 in Northern Ireland and 498 in Wales. A phone survey was conducted for 500 companies in England, 505 in Northern Ireland and 507 in Wales.

Compulsory display and including online
England continued to lag behind Wales and Northern Ireland in display rates, according to the data. Almost 40 percent of outlets are not displaying stickers either inside or outside the premises. A quarter of firms said they were displaying the rating but were found not to be during the audit.

Rates of display of stickers visible from outside the premises were 55 percent of establishments in England, 87 percent in Northern Ireland and 89 percent in Wales.

In England, 79 percent of businesses are supportive of introducing compulsory display. Firms in all countries also back extending the scheme to include online.

In England, 90 percent of outlets are displaying ratings that match the FHRS database. A total of 8 percent are showing a higher rating, which is down from 12 percent in 2018. Only 2 percent show a rating that is lower than that in the database.

In Northern Ireland, 93 percent of ratings on display match the database, while 5 percent are displaying a higher and 1 percent a lower rating. In Wales, 92 percent are displaying ratings that match the FHRS database, while 4 percent show a higher rating and another 4 percent have a lower rating.

From a low score
From a survey of businesses asked why they display the rating, customer assurance is most commonly mentioned in England at 71 percent compared to 66 percent in 2018. It is the most commonly cited reason in Northern Ireland and the second most in Wales. The main reason in Wales is the compulsory element and this is also the second most frequent reason in Northern Ireland.

In England, the 17 percent of 74 sites that stated they do not display their rating said this was because of a low food hygiene score, lack of room or visibility, they had lost the sticker or certificate, and because it is not compulsory. Most would be encouraged to display if they had a better food hygiene rating, if lost stickers were re-issued, and there was a fairer hygiene rating scheme.

Most companies with a 4 or below said they have taken measures to improve their ratings. These actions cover all three elements of the rating system and include purchasing additional equipment or doing repairs; cleaning equipment more regularly; monitoring refrigerator temperatures; and improving records.

Almost 80 percent said outcomes of hygiene audits that the business pays someone to do should be used to inform ratings in England while 78 percent agree in Northern Ireland and 77 percent in Wales.

Consumer survey
A separate survey on consumer attitudes found most respondents thought businesses should be required to display the rating at their premises.

Face to face interviews were conducted with 2,041 adults in October 2019 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The majority of respondents also said companies providing a online ordering services should display their food hygiene ratings where they can be easily seen by consumers.

Nearly two thirds of people associated businesses that do not display a FHRS sticker with “poor hygiene standards.” However, almost half would buy food from businesses that did not display their food hygiene rating.

The lowest acceptable food hygiene rating was “3” and “4”, both at 39 percent. Most of those surveyed said they would not consider purchasing from a business that had a rating lower than they considered acceptable.

More than half take quality and type of food into account when deciding where to eat out or purchase takeaway food followed, by price, but only a fifth consider hygiene standards and food safety, and 10 percent the food hygiene rating.

A third said they would “definitely” decide to eat out or purchase food from somewhere based on the FHRS rating. In terms of often checking the rating, 20 percent of those in England, 15 percent in Wales and 13 percent in Northern Ireland often do so before deciding to purchase food from an establishment.

Less than a quarter said they had decided not to eat out or purchase takeaway from a business, or not to return there, because of an issue relating to its food hygiene in the past 12 months.

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