food hygiene rating fsa

An investigation by the Food Standards Agency has revealed huge inconsistencies in the way local authorities score its Food Hygiene Rating ‘Scores on the Doors’ scheme.

In an inspection exercise under which the FSA set up a mock food business that should have attracted a five-star rating, nearly one in 10 gave the operation three stars or less; 16 of the 350 councils awarded the operation just one star; and one authority gave it a zero.

“It’s crazy there could be so much variation in how local authorities judge businesses,” said an expert retail source.

“Quite how one authority managed to give a five-star business zero stars is beyond me.”

The FSA said the main objective of the exercise was to show how consistently authorities judged the measures taken by the operator to avoid cross-contamination between raw and ready-to-eat food to protect against E.coli, with the exercise set up so the business should have got top marks, despite some procedures needing tightening.

“Trust and confidence in FHR are key and we recognise the importance of making sure businesses are treated fairly and consistently with their local, regional and national competitors,” said an FSA spokesman.

He also defended councils over their interpretation of the exercise. “The national consistency exercise was a desktop scenario-based exercise so does not and cannot replicate a ‘real time’ inspection,” said the spokesman.

“Officers are unable to use their routine professional inspection skills to probe and challenge but rather must take matters at face value. These limitations must be recognised and the results considered in that context.”

The report comes a year after Which? slammed the “huge variation” in hygiene standards nationally and called for action to strengthen food law enforcement.

Under the Scores on the Doors scheme, food operators are judged on scores ranging from zero stars, meaning urgent improvement necessary, to five, meaning very high standards.