Food hygiene ratings: is a 0 always bad?

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There are some food and drink businesses in Bristol that I would choose never to visit again, as I’ve seen evidence of uncleanliness while I’ve been there. Conversely, there are some businesses with an official food hygiene rating of 0 or 1 that I happily frequent on a regular basis. The important thing to note is that a low food hygiene rating doesn’t always mean that a place is unsanitary.

We’ve all heard food hygiene stories that make us feel a bit sick, a recent local example being that of Hamza Poultry, whose levels of cleanliness were beyond belief. Luckily, the business is no longer trading.

But does that mean that all businesses with a low official food hygiene rating are just as bad? We’ve all seen the green “scores on the doors” stickers used by food and drink businesses in Bristol and beyond, with many shouting about their 5 star rating as a selling point. If you’re looking for somewhere to dine, you can simply visit ratings.food.gov.uk, plug in the name of the establishment that you are considering, and find out what their official rating is before deciding whether or not to eat there.

On January 9 2014, the Bristol Post published a (slightly out of date) list of Bristol-based establishments that scored either 0 or 1 at their last council inspection. An easy assumption to make would be that these places should be avoided, as they obviously aren’t particularly clean. But is this really true…?

 

How are food hygiene ratings calculated?

Overall food hygiene ratings for a business are based on a combined rating for three individual elements:

    • How hygienically the food is handled: how it is prepared, cooked, re-heated, cooled and stored
    • The condition of the structure of the buildings – the cleanliness, layout, lighting, ventilation and other facilities
    • How the business manages and records what it does to make sure food is safe

You can find out more about food hygiene ratings here.

An overall food hygiene rating of 0, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that a business has performed badly in all three of these areas. A business, for example, can get a low overall score if food safety is poorly managed with no records in place, despite the premises being incredibly clean and the food handled in a very hygienic way.

According to Bristol City Council, the food hygiene inspectors will go back and revisit any business that has scored a 0, 1 or 2 – and sometimes even a 3 – depending on the reasons behind the score being awarded. Any business can only be re-scored once after receiving a low score, and if the score is still low after the revisit, they will have to wait until their next standard inspection before having the opportunity to be awarded a higher score. Updating the records on the website, however, can take time: if an inspection or re-inspection was carried out today, for example, it could be a few weeks until the new rating would appear on the website. The business in question, however, will be given their new certificate and window sticker on the day. Currently, it is not a legal requirement to display window stickers in England currently (only in Wales), but this may change in the future…

 

Bristol’s 0 ratings – are they really that bad?

The list of businesses in Bristol that have scored 0 at their last inspection is surprising, with some names that you wouldn’t expect to be featured. We have spoken to some of the businesses involved to understand why they have received such poor ratings…

Pepe Nero on Bond Street is a fantastic little pizzeria with some amazing reviews – and is a place that I’m more than happy to visit. Previously the holders of a rating of 5, their score dropped to a zero on their last inspection on October 8, 2013. Speaking with their owner, it appears that this rating was given for three reasons:

  • No hot water in the hand basin: this was due to a broken stop cap and was temporarily shut off while it was fixed.
  • A non-English speaker employed by Pepe Nero was unable to answer questions about food hygiene on the premises.
  • The same employee was unable to locate the record book (the owner was not present at the time of inspection).

Pepe Nero are awaiting their next inspection, and are confident that their rating will be far higher than the zero that they were last given.

Flavalanche on Park Street was inspected just three weeks after opening, at a time when they were still putting procedures in place. They were given a food hygiene rating of just 1, which is the score that currently appears on the Food Standards Agency’s website. The issues were rectified soon afterwards, and at the subsequent re-inspection, the owners were told that they would now be scored a rating of 3, which they could accept formally or hold out for the 5. If they accepted the 3, to gain the higher rating they would have to wait 18 months until the next official inspection. Flavalanche chose to do the latter, having now installed equipment that means that they tick all the boxes. They are currently awaiting their re-rating.

The 0 rating for The Stable on the Harbourside was another big surprise. Again, this is a case of a new business not filing the relevant paperwork in time: the pizza, pie and cider venue having been given a huge pile of paperwork to file for the inspection, which was not completed in time. As a result, a rating of 0 was awarded. Three weeks later, the inspector returned to examine the paperwork, and awarded a rating of 5, which – at the time of writing – has not been updated on the Food Standards Agency website.

As you can see from the above examples (disclaimer – all information has been provided by the individual businesses themselves), a low score may not necessarily equal low levels of hygiene.

 

What about new businesses?

According to Bristol City Council, all brand new food and drink businesses that have registered their details with the council are marked as “awaiting inspection” until the first inspection has taken place. If a business has been taken over by a new owner but still retains the same business name, it will continue to have the same food hygiene rating until the Council has been notified of a change of owner. When this happens, the website will simply state “awaiting inspection” beside the name of the business.

 

Why aren’t businesses with a 0 rating closed?

As you can see from some of the examples above, a rating of 0 does not necessarily mean that a business is pushing out food that is not fit for human consumption. In some cases, food hygiene and safety will leave a lot to be desired, but in others, simply starting to keep the correct records can see ratings boosted from a 0 to a 5.

Speaking with a food hygiene inspector from Bristol City Council, I discovered that the procedures that they go through to close a food or drink business are different to those that they go through to award food hygiene ratings. A 0 food hygiene rating means that they are working with a business to make sure that they improve, otherwise further steps could be taken. To close a business completely, there has to be evidence of an imminent risk to health.

 

Conclusion

It seems that there are a few issues here – firstly, with a lack of public understanding as to what a 0 or 1 rating actually means. Just because a business has a low score doesn’t mean that it is unsanitary – it may simply be that the relevant paperwork has not been completed. While full reports for individual businesses are not publicly available, it should be possible to request these from the Food Standards Agency thanks to the Freedom of Information Act.

The second issue is that of timing. With the Food Standards Agency website not being updated as soon as ratings are changed, some ratings that currently appear will be inaccurate. The best way to find out current ratings, therefore, is to contact the individual business directly.

The way that food hygiene ratings are calculated and displays leads to some questions. Should consumers have easier access to full reports? Should online ratings be updated more frequently? Should local councils be made to wait until a new business reaches a certain age before inspecting them? And should ratings be broken down into their three individual components so that consumers see where low scoring businesses have fallen down?

 

11 Responses to Food hygiene ratings: is a 0 always bad?

  1. Your article is absolute rubbish and you truly don’t understand the importance of the paperwork side of running a kitchen, just because a place is spotlessly clean does not make it safe you eat in and if anywhere scores a 0 it means they are not handling food hygienicly

    • The point I’m making here is that a rating of 0 can mean many different things – from the consumer point of view, it’s a flawed system that does not give the overall picture.

  2. Although a 0 rating may indeed mean an establishment is clean, it can in no way mean the business is managed correctly. Leaving a non English speaking employee in charge, not fixing a hot water tap immediately, opening without procedures in place and all the other lame excuses just don’t cut it. A zero means POOR

  3. I spoke directly to an employee of the food standards agency over the phone after receiving (what I believe to have been) food poisoning from an establishment.

    They explicitly stated that a score below 2 (if I recall correctly, it may have actually been a 3) means unsanitary conditions are present as it is impossible to reach below 2 just by having poor records etc.

    I will reiterate one more time: it is impossible to have a 0 or 1 rating without some evidence of dirtiness and unhygienic practices present during the inspection.

    This means that, without a doubt, you should *always* avoid places that especially have a 0, as well as a 1, and frankly a 2 also.

    On top of this, I was told attaining a 5 rating is by no means difficult – anything below this demonstrates the owner and workers are not doing everything in their power to ensure top-notch hygiene standards- do you really want to trust your health to people that don’t prioritize hygiene in their establishment?

    On another note, I think the time those scores are shown is actually beneficial to the public. How I reach this conclusion is because the mentality will be, “We need to do everything in our power to ensure a high rating, otherwise that lower score will be broadcast for a long time and this could affect our business”.

  4. Just seen this article.
    The author has no concept of food safety and does not appreciate the concept of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) in terms of temperature controls/records and potential cross contamination.

    There also appears to be an absolutely shocking level of ignorance in respect to the importance of an establishment even having hot water!

    Please keep your misinformation to yourself.

    Forest Red (EHO).

  5. My local Burger van man has a food standards rating of a 5. If he can get a 5 then it can’t be that difficult.

  6. Absolute rubbish. The FSA have stated that poor record keeping alone will not result in a score lower than two. If an establishment cannot be bothered with proper hygiene then they do not deserve your business.

  7. I think this is evidence that there needs to be better understanding and training about how to manage your restaurants hygiene.

  8. A 0 rating does not determine the safety of the food! The importance of the paperwork depends on the amount of kitchen staff and communication, it does not neccesarily impact the handling, storage and preparation of food. Somewhere I once worked scored a zero, not because the food was unsafe in any way, but because the paperwork had been destroyed by a disgruntled employee and a section of floor had not been replaced.

  9. What a load of bollocks. This apologetic article is dangerous and misleading. Not filling in the paper work is no excuse. It’s an essential part of running a business and the penalties for not doing so should be severe.

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