Most companies in England would support mandatory food hygiene rating display, according to research by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Outlets are given a rating from 0 to 5, with 5 indicating “very good” food hygiene and 0 meaning “urgent improvement necessary.” In Wales and Northern Ireland, businesses are legally required to display their Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS) sticker. In England, they are only asked to do so.

Fieldwork in October and December 2022 included 1,525 covert audits of food businesses in England, Northern Ireland and Wales and 1,500 phone interviews of firms in these nations.

Around nine in 10 businesses in Northern Ireland and Wales said the legal requirement to display the rating was a good thing. In England, 82 percent reported they believed it would also be good, down slightly from 85 percent in 2021. The most common reason was that it is important to be transparent about food hygiene.

FSA decided in late 2022 that work toward a comment period and subsequent primary legislation for mandatory display in England should be temporarily paused but intends to raise the issue again with ministers in the future.

Display rates and scores
In England, 67 percent of businesses were displaying a food hygiene rating, either inside or in a location visible from outside. This is up slightly from 64 percent in 2021.

The figure was 87 percent in Northern Ireland and 91 percent in Wales. However, this means one in 10 sites do not display their score. In the survey, businesses commonly reported this was because there was nowhere suitable to show it outdoors. Self-reported rates of display were higher than those observed during audits.

In England and Northern Ireland, takeaways and sandwich shops were more likely than average to have a sticker on display, while pubs, bars, and nightclubs were less likely. In Wales, restaurants and catering sites were more likely to display their sticker, while retail businesses, such as supermarkets and food shops, were less likely.

In England, businesses with a rating of 5 were more likely than average to display a sticker, while those with a 4 or 3 were less likely. Only six out of 22 outlets with a rating of 2 or below had a sticker on show.

Most businesses had an online presence. However, relatively few with a website or Facebook Business page displayed their rating on these platforms. The majority felt that showing food hygiene ratings should become mandatory for at least some online platforms.

Auditors compared the ratings observed within businesses to those found on the FHRS database. In a few cases where the rating displayed did not match the database score, more sites had a higher rating than a lower one.

Business satisfaction

Most businesses reported being satisfied with their food hygiene rating. Those with a higher rating showed better satisfaction levels. Reasons for being dissatisfied included they were expecting a higher rating, a sense that the result was not fair, and the inspection was conducted at an inconvenient time.

Around one third of businesses considered a rating of 4 to be the minimum and very few would be satisfied with a 3 or less.

A few businesses reported they had requested a re-rating inspection or right to reply. Only around 1 in 20 in each country had applied for a re-rating and around 1 in 10 used their right to reply.

Businesses who were not satisfied with their rating but did not apply for a re-rating inspection said this was because fees were too high, they had not yet made all the changes suggested or due to a lack of time. In contrast to 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic was not mentioned as a barrier. Of outlets that did apply for a re-rating, more than half were awarded a higher grade. This is a significant increase from 28 percent in 2021.

The majority of businesses that received a food hygiene rating of 4 or less reported making changes to try to improve their score. In England, the most common action was undertaking repairs or improvements, closely followed by cleaning the workplace or premises. In Northern Ireland and Wales, the top action was improving documentation or record keeping. 

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)