Bexley is the local authority area with the highest failure rate among catering businesses for food hygiene in England, while Craven district council, North Yorkshire, has the lowest failure rate.
That's one of the findings from new research by reputation management firm KwikChex, which has analysed the scores received by restaurants, hotels, pubs, shops and other caterers across the country, under the Food Standards Agency's (FSA) Food Hygiene Rating Scheme.
The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme, successor to the controversial Scores on the Doors programme, ranks businesses with a score of zero to five, where five indicates excellent hygiene standards, and zero means urgent improvement is required.
KwikChex found that kebab shops failed to shake off their reputation for questionable hygiene practices, with 31% of the 1,500 businesses returned in its search receiving a score below satisfactory standard, scoring two or below in the inspection ratings - the worst performance of any type of cuisine.
And the company discovered that take-aways in general did little better, with 21% of the 8,000 take-aways returned in its search showing a failure to meet the satisfactory standards.
The research also highlighted discrepancies in the scores awarded to caterers at hospitals, care homes and nursery schools by the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme, and by other inspectors including the Care Quality Commission and Ofsted. A total of 663 of these showed as failures in the UK according to the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme, but many had been given high marks by the other bodies, indicated little tie-up between agencies.
Almost all branded restaurant chains were found to have performed well in the FSA's scheme.
Chris Emmins, co-founder of KwikChex, said his company's research had come about following a significant increase in businesses asking for help concerning anonymous online allegations of food poisoning. He said the research suggested few consumers were aware of expert resources that help them check food hygiene standards, and identify and report food poisoning cases.
"We're trying to make sure that false allegations come off review sites. But while we are protecting maligned businesses, we are also doing everything we can to let the public know that there are various processes available. You can report problems to the FSA before you go and falsely accuse a business online, and before you even go out for a meal you can check the score."
The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme is a national scheme run in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. A similar scheme is run in Scotland. Each local authority can choose whether it wants to take part or not, although the scheme is now running in all areas of Wales and in increasing numbers of areas of England and Northern Ireland.
A spokesperson from Bexley Council said: "Bexley's food safety inspections are scored in accordance with the national Food Hygiene Rating scheme, with systems in place to ensure consistency and fairness.
"When we launched the scheme earlier this year we were aware that not all food businesses would receive a rating straight away and are working to extend the scheme to include additional food businesses as quickly as possible. Our inspections are targeted towards higher-risk premises, which can include take-aways and smaller restaurants. These premises will be inspected more often, which means that Bexley's figures may appear disproportionate when compared nationally. As more lower-risk premises are brought into the scheme, the proportion of businesses receiving poor rating scores is expected to fall to levels more in line with national figures.
"The council kept local food business operators informed about the introduction of the scheme, including a presentation for the licensed trade before the scheme was launched and guidance for all food business operators on how to improve their compliance with food law and increase their likelihood of obtaining a high rating score."
Food hygiene Failure rates
Local authority areas (in England only) with the lowest failure rates (lowest % of 0, 1 & 2 ratings)
2 South Gloucestershire
3 South Norfolk
5 North Devon
6 Ribble Valley
8 Weymouth and Portland
9 West Oxfordshire
North Devon also had the highest percentage of five-star ratings - over 81%, or 1,159 out of a total of 1,417 businesses inspected
Local authority areas (in England only) with the highest percentage of failure rates
4 St Albans
Bexley also had the highest percentage of 0 ratings - 8.46%, or 57 from a total of 673 businesses inspected
By Neil Gerrard
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