Food Standards Agency chair Heather Hancock urged ministers to approve new regulations that will require businesses to display their food hygiene ratings.
“Displaying your FHRS [food hygiene rating scheme] sticker has been mandatory in Wales since 2013,” she explained. “In Northern Ireland, it became the law in the last week. It isn’t a legal obligation in England. Yet. We are now developing the business case for mandatory display in England. When we have ministerial approval, we’ll fold it into wider regulatory reforms.”
Hancock pointed to “robust evidence” that links the bugs found at food businesses and the FHRS rating. “The higher the rating, the fewer the nasty bugs,” she said. “A good hygiene rating signals that you’re a responsible food business. And there is no extra regulatory burden, save for popping the sticker on the window.”
Hancock’s speech followed changes in Northern Ireland last week, where the Food Hygiene Rating Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 and associated regulations came into force. Food outlets will now have to display their FHRS by law.
The new regulations replace the voluntary scheme run since the end of 2011 by district councils and the Food Standards Agency (FSA). Next year, businesses that offer online ordering of food will also need to publish the rating on their websites.
Michael Jackson, head of local authority policy and delivery at the FSA in Northern Ireland, said the changes marked a “major step forward”. “The mandatory display will encourage businesses with a poor rating to improve their standards and strive for a better rating,” he explained.
A similar scheme in Wales, introduced back in 2013, has improved standards considerably, according to data published last year. In the first two years the share of firms achieving the top “five star” rating increased from 45% to 61%.
In England, the results are available on the FSA website. However, there’s no legal obligation to show them on the premises.
Pressure to change the law intensified last month, following an analysis by the Guardian that suggested foodservice companies in England were failing on hygiene.
Local authorities have said that forcing restaurants, takeaways and other foodservice sites to display a hygiene rating would improve consumer confidence and raise standards.