The controversial food hygiene rating system "Scores on the Doors" has come under renewed criticism from the British Hospitality Association (BHA), as the Food Standards Agency (FSA) released new figures on local authority food law enforcement.
The figures showed that between April 2008 and April 2009, 86% of UK establishments inspected for food hygiene "were at a level equivalent to the top three tiers" of the Scores on the Doors system - meaning they were "broadly compliant" with food hygiene law or better. Meanwhile, 40% achieved standards equivalent to the top tier.
But outgoing BHA chief executive Bob Cotton blasted the system, which was introduced despite protest from the hospitality industry in December 2008. Instead of displaying a simple "pass" or "fail", food establishments are given a score ranging from zero which is a "fail" rating, to five stars.
Cotton said: "Under this star rating scheme you can get one or two stars and still fail to meet the legal requirements. To me that seems crazy. The current system is voluntary, which is why you have confusion across the country. And they have different criteria across the country for what the different ratings are. We want one clear approach across the whole country."
Meanwhile the London Local Authorities Bill, which aims to require the use of Scores on the Doors across London, has been repeatedly blocked in Parliament following petitions from the BHA and other industry groups.
But the BHA's food and technical adviser, John Dyson, did welcome the news that 86% of food establishments were "broadly compliant" with food law. "I was quite pleased because we have pushed the "broadly compliant" level to be where it is because we think that is probably right. There's lots of evidence to show that consumers will eat in broadly compliant establishments but will not eat in those below that level," he said.
The FSA responded: "The UK-wide Scores on the Doors Steering Group, which includes BHA representation, is now focusing on developing a consistency framework for local authorities, this will help ensure that consumers are able to make meaningful comparisons of hygiene ratings for establishments both within a single local authority area and across different local authority areas."
Its report also revealed that it had received 72,562 complaints from the public about the safety and quality of food in the year, although there are no figures on how many of those complaints were upheld.
While the total number of formal enforcement actions by inspectors remained broadly the same as in 2006/07 at 167,000, prosecutions fell 23% to 338. The use of improvement notices rose 30% to 6,098, and the number of simple cautions was up 55% to 560. Written warnings made up 95% of all enforcement action.
By Neil Gerrard
E-mail your comments to Neil Gerrard here.
If you have something to say on this story or anything else join the debate at Table Talk - Caterer's new networking forum. Go to www.caterersearch.com/tabletalk
Looking for a new job? Find your next restaurant job here with Caterersearch.com jobs