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Since the food hygiene rating or ‘scores on doors’ was introduced, cleanliness of hospitality businesses has become a matter of public record. Prospective customers can check any of the 511,921 listed businesses throughout the UK at the touch of a button. The increased awareness of food hygiene standards and rising customer expectations are putting businesses under mounting pressure to achieve a 5* rating. Those businesses falling short of the mark could suffer more than just a damaged reputation.
A Checkit report revealed the lasting damage poor scoring can inflict on hospitality businesses unprepared or unfamiliar with food hygiene legislation. It reported 61% of hospitality customers refuse to go in a premises scoring 2 or below on the FSA hygiene rating scheme. Food hygiene regulations are put in place to safeguard the public. Hospitality businesses displaying blatant disregard for the law and their customer's health face the risk of fines, closure and in serious offenses, custodial sentences.
The financial and reputational damage following food safety violations can be irreparable. US food giant Chipotle saw their quarterly profits fall by 44% following a spate of food poisoning scares, resulting in the total company value being reduced by $11bn. Another high-profile American case in recent years has been Taco Bell, who experienced a decline in sales for over a year after cases of food poisoning were reported to the press. As a result, North America introduced a mandatory scorecard system, the equivalent to our UK food standards ratings. In Los Angeles this resulted in a 13.1% decrease in hospital admissions from foodborne illnesses. This goes to show an increased focus on food safety can protect the public, as well as defend hospitality businesses against the negative consequences associated with poor food hygiene.
So how can businesses guarantee a 5 star rating will decorate their door? Ensuring kitchen staff have a solid understanding of food safety is a good place to start. Paying for food handlers to undergo the basic food hygiene certificate training is an investment in future kitchen standards. This will provide staff with core knowledge of the 3 C’s; Cross contamination, cleaning and chilling, which are the source of most foodborne illnesses.
Business who successfully achieve good feedback from the food standards agency always have rigorous management procedures in place. Having full up to date records, such as temperature records, date dots, order sheets displays a solid commitment to food safety which is exactly what inspectors want to see. Continually reviewing working practices, examining the hazards and quantifying the risks will ensure you operate within the law. Promoting good hygiene amongst staff (regular hand washing, hair tied back, not chewing gum,smoking or working when ill) is also key to limiting exposure.
The cleanliness of your premises is a clear indicator of food hygiene standards, so ensuring your front of house is as clean as your back of house should be, will reassure your customers and indicates they can be confident in the products you serve. 66% of respondents to the Checkit survey declared an unclean or dirty premises would be the the main reason they would not return to a hospitality business, which was secondary to a low food hygiene rate at 57%. And the evidence suggests if they don’t come back, they never will. 75% of consumers said they would never return to a restaurant that had suffered a food hygiene incident.
The guide for businesses published by the food standards agency notes “The regulations are designed to be flexible, so these procedures can be in proportion to the size of your business and the type of work you do. This means that many small businesses will have very simple procedures and records.” This will no doubt relieve SMEs daunted by paperwork, but the number of records doesn't reduce the importance of them.
Erroneous or absent records can prove costly. Katharine Vickery, partner and leading food lawyer at Eversheds LLP reports "Very small businesses could now be fined thousands of pounds, rather than hundreds, and larger businesses could be forced to pay millions in serious cases. When individuals are prosecuted, there is also a greater chance of custodial sentences being imposed for serious cases." And there are worrying precedents. A UK pub chef and manager were jailed for falsifying records, putting hundreds at risk. On rare occasions this can have fatal consequences. Last Christmas a woman died as a result of food poisoning following consumption of a contaminated Christmas dinner at a restaurant. The pub chain were fined £1.5m.
Food hygiene is not difficult to implement as long as you take the time to understand the risks and adhere to the legislation. Restaurants, takeaways, pubs and cafes are all responsible for ensuring the food they serve is fit for consumption. Ensuring the food preparation area is clean and sterile, as well as staffed by handlers competent in food safety. Instilling the importance of good food hygiene in your staff will protect your customer's health and the reputation of your business.
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