One in two food firms don’t display their hygiene ratings, reveals new research.
Now council chiefs are calling for all businesses that serve food to customers in England, including online food delivery outlets, to be forced to display food hygiene ratings – just like ones in Wales and Northern Ireland now have to.
The Local Government Association (LGA) also want healthy food choices to be incorporated into the hygiene ratings system to help tackle the obesity crisis.
The LGA is calling for a change in legislation following the success of mandatory display of food hygiene ratings in Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as a rise in phone ‘apps’ and online menus people are using to order takeaway food.
A recent report showed that more than half of people in the UK (59 per cent) either used a website, an app, or a mobile website to order food.
Council environmental health teams score food outlets from zero to five based on factors such as kitchen cleanliness, cooking methods and food safety management.
Businesses in Wales and Northern Ireland are legally required to display their rating.
However, in England, businesses don’t have to display the rating they have been awarded, which means customers could be unaware of food hygiene levels when choosing where to eat or buy food, either at food premises or online.
Only 49 per cent of businesses in England display their food hygiene rating, according to research by the Food Standards Agency, compared to 84 per cent in Wales and 82 per cent in Northern Ireland.
The LGA wants the Government to empower councils by legally extending the mandatory display of food hygiene ratings to England, including to online businesses.
Mandatory display of food hygiene ratings is already supported by The Food Standards Agency, consumer watchdogs Which? and the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health.
Council chiefs say the move would not only improve consumer confidence and raise standards, but also reduce the need for, and therefore cost of, enforcement action.
Recent of examples of local authority action include Middlesbrough Council prosecuting the owner of a rodent-infested Chinese restaurant after inspectors found evidence of rats, mice and maggots.
The business was closed down by the council immediately and the owner was ordered to pay £6,448 in fines and costs.
Bedford Borough Council prosecuted an Indian takeaway which was fined £12,000 after environmental health officers found a serious infestation of cockroaches inside the premises.
The business was closed temporarily and reopened in six days after necessary improvement work was undertaken.
Harborough District Council prosecuted a butchery after an inspection found a string of food hygiene offences including filthy food preparation and storage areas, dirty food equipment, contradictory risk assessment paperwork, as well as inadequate staff training and food hygiene knowledge.
The business, which supplies local pubs, restaurants, schools and children’s nurseries, was ordered to pay £8,500 in fines and costs.
Now the LGA says that businesses – including restaurants, pubs, cafes, takeaways, sandwich shops, supermarkets, delicatessens and web platforms offering food – that fail to comply should be fined or prosecuted.
Simon Blackburn, Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “Food hygiene laws need to be strengthened to drive up standards and protect people from being served unsafe food.
“With more people ordering takeaways online or on their phone, it should be mandatory for businesses in England to display food hygiene ratings on their menus online and on ‘apps’ as well as in their premises.
“This would remove the risk of customers being left in the dark on official kitchen cleanliness levels when eating or ordering food.
“Incorporating healthy food choices into the food hygiene ratings system would also help tackle the obesity crisis.
“Food hygiene standards and compliance levels have risen since mandatory display of ratings was introduced in Wales and Northern Ireland.
“Making the display of hygiene ratings compulsory in England would incentivise food outlets to improve or maintain high hygiene standards, reduce the risk of illness for customers, improve consumer confidence and save taxpayers’ money by reducing the need for, and cost of, enforcement action by councils.”
Heather Hancock, Chairman of the Food Standards Agency, added: “We’re delighted that the LGA supports our plans to make it mandatory to display hygiene ratings both in their premises and online in England.
“Mandatory display has already made a big difference in Wales and Northern Ireland, pushing up business hygiene standards and giving consumers greater confidence that their food is safe.”
She added: “We’re preparing the case for mandatory display in England and hope to see progress soon.”