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Hygiene rating must be fair

26 June 2008

A week after Yo! Sushi was forced to respond to media claims over its hygiene standards, Stuart Knill, food safety manager at stocktaking firm Venners, says the proposed "scores on the doors" must be fair

We welcome the review of the "scores on the doors" scheme by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), but it must bear in mind the consequences for restaurants.

Everyone likes to get accolades for their work, especially if they are commended for their standards. But is it fair, after a site has been inspected, been found wanting and has corrected any areas of concern, that the business then has to wait a considerable time - up to 18 months or two years is proposed - to have that recognised?

Being recognised for improvements in a timely fashion would surely motivate it to raise standards quickly.

Equally, a restaurant could be awarded a high grade at the time an inspection is done, but in reality it does not live up to the award given because the ownership, management or cleaning regime has changed for the worse. In both instances, the public is misinformed.

In an ideal world, local authorities would be working closely with sites and would revisit on a regular basis. To do this, though, is a costly exercise.

Whatever the FSA decides to do, the scheme has to be fair, with clear pathways for sites to achieve nationally recognised criteria, showing clearly where they can improve or maintain set standards.

In my experience, the criteria vary and are often bewildering to operators that have a national spread of sites.

We know there will always be hygiene shortfalls, and restaurants need to be motivated to maintain standards, but the FSA needs to ensure that when an inspection has taken place there are clear guidelines to help the site improve. It also needs to ensure that the site is reinspected within a sensible period of time.

So as to not penalise those outlets that had a good original rating or those that have made the necessary improvements between inspections, perhaps the award given should be weighted to reflect both the original and subsequent findings.

The details and score of each inspection could be communicated through websites, thereby motivating and rewarding improvement across the industry.

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