Restaurants and other food premises could soon be forced to display their food inspection reports, whether good or bad.
A London-wide pilot of the Scores on the Doors scheme will be introduced in January, and if successful, will be rolled out across the UK in a single nationwide scheme.
Jenny Morris, policy officer at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, which is leading the trial, said: "We are delighted that after many years of campaigning consumers will soon be able to exercise choice about where they eat based not only on the menu but also on knowing how conscientious the restaurants they choose to frequent are in maintaining good food hygiene.
A study of food-borne disease hospitalisations following the introduction of a restaurant grading system in Los Angeles County in 1998 suggested that such systems can lead to a reduction in cases of food-borne illness.
In some parts of the USA, premises have to display a scorecard with capital letters A - E indicating the level of hygiene standards at the premises. A indicates high standards of food safety and hygiene and E poor standards.
Denmark operates a Smiley scheme whereby food premises that practice good hygiene are given a happy face and those that don't are given a sad face.
Several UK local authorities have already developed their own schemes using different rating systems, but a unified star rating system is being proposed which would encourage businesses to improve standards.
By Daniel Thomas