Australia take note: Even though Toronto, Los Angeles and New York City have all figured out mandatory disclosure of restaurant inspection grades on the door – you know, when people might actually make a decision – the Brits and Aussies opted for a voluntary system, so if a restaurant gets a 2-out-of-5 it’s just not posted.
But not England or Scotland.
The Telegraph reports that the UK government came under pressure last night from council leaders who called for a change in the law to force high-class establishments – even Michelin starred ones — to publicise their hygiene rankings in a bid to reduce the risk of diners eating unsafe food and becoming ill.
The change would affect all restaurants but those with Michelin stars are set to be hit particularly hard, as research by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) shows their rankings are generally lower than many familiar chain restaurants.
I repeat, Michelin-starred restaurants generally rank lower than chain restaurants.
Fancy food ain’t safe food.
In December, FSA found 83pc of high street chains were given the best rating of five out of five, compared to just 55pc of Michelin star restaurants.
Michelin stars, a mark of exceptional quality food, are awarded to businesses by mystery shoppers and are judged independently of the official hygiene ratings.
Safety and quality are altogether different measures.
(Safety and quality are different measures, see below.}
The FSA said all businesses should be able to reach this top rating of five.
But Bruce Poole, owner of Chez Bruce, a Michelin star restaurant in Wandsworth with a hygiene rating of lower than five, defended top restaurants which did not score top marks.
He said: “It is very difficult for restaurants like ours as unlike high street chains which have restricted menus, we have fresh food coming through the day – sometimes up to 70 different items. We have to be able to show that all these pieces of produce have been handled correctly. For example we were downgraded from five stars because we couldn’t prove that we had frozen some fish at the correct temperature.”
Simon Blackburn, Blackpool councilor and chairman of the Local Government Association safer and stronger communities board, said: “It’s not always easy for people to judge hygiene standards simply by walking through the front door of a premise and know whether they are about to be served a ‘dodgy’ meal that could pose a serious risk to their health.”
An FSA spokesperson said: “We very much favour making this system compulsory in England too, as we believe this will be better for consumers. It will also be better for businesses that achieve good standards as they will get more recognition and it will increase the spotlight on those not meeting the grade.”
“Anyone in England who sees a business without a hygiene rating sticker currently has to decide if they want to eat or buy food there without knowing what’s going on in the kitchen” said councillor Simon Blackburn, the chair of the LGA’s safer and stronger communities board.
“It’s not always easy for people to judge hygiene standards simply by walking through the front door of a premise and know whether they are about to be served a ‘dodgy’ burger or kebab that could pose a serious risk to their health.
“Councils always take action to tackle poor or dangerous hygiene and improve conditions and see first-hand what shockingly can go on behind closed doors at rogue food premises.
Mandatory display of food hygiene ratings is supported by the consumer organization Which?, the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health and many environmental health officers.
Last year Gordon Ramsay’s Maze restaurant in Mayfair, London, scored just two out of five after inspectors found cockroaches on the premises. Immediate steps were taken and Maze now scores top marks.
The LGA released details of recent food safety breaches, including in Croydon where more than 100 food outlets failed to meet expected hygiene standards last year, including 22 on a single street.
Over to you, Australia.