Quick Recipes and Easy

Restaurant Hygiene OK? – How to Find Out

Until last year if you lived in the UK and wanted to find out about
restaurant hygiene standards from the public health authorities, you
could forget it! All information was deemed “commercially confidential” and closely
guarded by local councils. Now everything has changed with
the Freedom of Information Act, and you can question for the latest
inspection report for any food business anywhere in the country.

At first some councils refused requests, fearing
either legal action by mad restaurateurs, or that their relationships
with businesses would be hurt. The Information
Commissioner, a government watchdog, made a ruling in late 2005
which means that all councils should now respond to requests.
There is no charge for requests on a small scale, but if you
question for reports on every restaurant in your town, expect to be advised
that there will be a substantial charge!

But lets face it, who wants all the hassle of making a formal written
request anyway, especially if it might trigger a charge?
There is an simpler way, as many councils are now
publishing summary versions of inspection reports on the web.
At the moment the numbers are honestly limited, but include
some large councils such as Birmingham, Bristol and Camden in London
(which includes Soho), and seaside resorts such as Weymouth and Fantastic
Yarmouth.

Most councils use symbols such as stars to give
ratings, with the most common ratings being based on stars, usually
five in number. A word of warning though! The councils use slightly different
scoring systems, so check what they mean on each site.
Generally the more stars or other symbols the better.
A low number of symbols may mean the premises had some poor
hygiene at the last inspection, so on a five star based scheme
look for at least three stars. Of course, the
rating is based on a single inspection on a particular day, so things
may have changed since the last inspection, for excellent or worse.

It’s not just restaurants you can check out. The hygiene
standards of school kitchens, day nurseries, hospitals, flight
catering, and your local takeaway are just a few clicks away.
The simplest way to find out which councils are
publishing is to go to scores-on-the-doors.org.uk/ Scores-on-the-Doors
where they are all listed.

So before you book a table next time, or head out for a takeaway, check out the latest hygiene report on-line.

This article was written by Stewart Brock, who has over twenty-five years experience as an environmental health practitioner, specialising in food safety and occupational health & safety, and has recently completed a Master’s degree in Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He can be contacted via scores-on-the-doors.org.uk scores-on-the-doors.org.uk

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