Food hygiene inspection reports, dubbed "scores on the doors", are to be published for all London restaurants after the capital's 33 boroughs last week agreed to move forward with the scheme.
Proposals put forward by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) London Region will see every restaurant and food outlet in the capital rated according to its latest food hygiene report, theoretically enabling consumers to make informed choices about where to eat.
Jenny Morris, CIEH food policy officer, said: "There is a strong public interest in these schemes and the desire for London boroughs to drive up food hygiene standards.
"We are developing a London-wide scheme and have the support of all the boroughs. An initial proposal will be put to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) by the end of February."
The publication of food hygiene reports is currently voluntary under the law, and no timetable has yet been established for implementation of a London-wide scheme.
The introduction in 2000 of the Freedom of Information Act, which allows anyone to request access to food hygiene reports, has placed local authorities under increasing pressure to publish food inspection results.
So far, the London boroughs of Camden, Greenwich, Southwark and Brent, as well as local authorities outside London, including Norfolk and the Highland councils, have started publishing reports.
Scotland is also researching a scheme to implement a countrywide "scores on the doors" policy.
However, the haphazard approach to the publication of reports is causing increasing concern across the industry.
John Dyson, food and technical adviser to the British Hospitality Association, said consistency was vital for a fair and equitable system.
"Nobody wants a load of different schemes springing up across the country," he said. "For such a scheme to be viable we need to ensure the criteria and inspections are consistent and ensure customers know what it all means."
Morris said: "Any system we implement needs to be equitable, fair and consistent, and it needs to be understood by consumers and business.
"Ideally, we should have one national scheme, but there are other issues driving the situation, including devolution. At least this way we will have uniformity in London."
The FSA, which has overall responsibility for environmental health inspections, said it was working on its own proposals for trialling "scores on the doors".
"We are working with local authority groups across the country to ask them for proposals. We'll then decide on all aspects of using scores on doors," said a spokeswoman.
Other schemes around the world
- Denmark is currently the only state in the EU to have published full inspection details. Comprehensive information has been provided on a website since 2001, with summaries displayed at the premises through the use of a range of different "smiley" face symbols - from happy to sad.
- Toronto recently adopted a hygiene information system using both web-based comprehensive reports and the display of summary details on the premises. This is done through the use of coloured cards, based on a "traffic light" system. Green is a pass, yellow a conditional pass and red means the site is closed.
Source: Chartered Institute of Environmental Health
By Jessica Gunn
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