How did your nearest restaurants fare in latest food hygiene tests?
- Credit: Archant Norfolk
Nearly a fifth of the region’s takeaway restaurants inspected this year failed food hygiene tests – despite overall standards improving.
Official records show that while 68% of eateries visited by inspectors in Suffolk and north Essex achieved the highest five-star rating, there were also patterns of poor performance across the region.
Our investigation found significant variations in how different categories of food outlets fared, with schools, hospitals and catering businesses, consistently among the highest rated premises, while takeaway restaurants frequently failed to meet requirements.
Across all the 2,000 food serving establishments inspected this year, only 8% received scores of two or less – which means improvements are necessary. But when looking at only the 231 takeaways and sandwich shops that were inspected, that proportion increased to 19%, with fewer than half achieving the highest rating of five.
In Ipswich – the worst scoring region – more than a third of all takeaways inspected scored two or less, with almost a quarter scoring just one, meaning “major improvements” are necessary.
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Today, food bosses at high-rated restaurants in the region insisted most businesses maintained good levels of food hygiene and praised the National Food Hygiene Rating Scheme for driving up standards.
It was introduced five years ago by the Food Standards Agency to provide customers with information on food-serving organisation using online reports and a standardised rating system of zero to five.
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Council officers who carry out the inspections say it has proved “highly successful” in improving standards by encouraging businesses to meet hygiene regulations.
They claim it is better to work with a food establishment to resolve their problems with professional guidance and regular inspections rather than simply shutting it down.
But while most businesses achieve high standards of food hygiene with support from the council or their own initiative, inspectors are still finding flagrant failings across the region.
One recent report on a zero-rated takeaway restaurant in the Babergh and Mid Suffolk district cited areas “filthy with blood juice stains”, raw chicken stored in the same plastic buckets as cleaned lettuces and no disinfection of knives or chopping boards.
John Grayling, corporate manager for food and safety for the district councils, said such reports gave a “flavour” for what was occasionally found during inspections, but warned that customers may not notice the poor practice “and that is why we always encourage them to check the rating before buying food”.
“If food is produced in an unsafe way, the public are put at risk of food borne infectious diseases, which can be extremely unpleasant and on occasion result in fatalities,” he added.
“Our aim is to get as many food businesses as possible to be compliant and in the process we are levelling the playing field for the compliant businesses by not allowing others to unfairly compete through not investing properly in food safety.”
Top rated restaurants inspected this year say there is no excuse for failing to meet the standards, which give the industry a bad reputation.
Jose Da Silva, chef at Grand Central in Ipswich, said the restaurant’s ‘five’ rating “gives us a very good reputation for customers”.
“They know they will be served high quality food from a clean kitchen, which is what we provide,” he added.
“In my view, those who don’t comply don’t care about their businesses - they don’t have the passion or the drive to go forward.”
Polly Durrant, owner of the Ufford Crown and Ramsholt Arms, both five-rated pubs, said she felt it was “really good to have a common standard to aim for”.
“I think it’s also good for the customers to be able to tell that where they are eating follows the hygiene rules,” she added.
Nicky Richmond, owner of The Bay Tree Café in Bury St Edmunds, which also received a five rating earlier this year, says the scheme helps businesses attract customers.
“There’s nothing better than having five stars,” she said.
“We’ve got it up in our window and a number of customers have remarked on it when they come in.”
Tourism chiefs in Suffolk have welcomed the scheme’s focus on ensuring high food standards, which they say is an important part of the county’s visitor attraction.
Amanda Bond, brand manager for Visit Suffolk, said the county’s produce and eateries are a “huge draw” for tourist and praised the generally high standards of food hygiene shown by most businesses.
With a recent Visit Suffolk survey showing that 63% of businesses were looking to improve the quality of their offering, Ms Bond urged those in the local food industry “strive to achieve the top ratings amongst a nationally recognised scheme such as this”.
“In a competitive business, these are the kind of assurances that holidaymakers are looking for, especially when eating in places that they have not previously visited,” she added.
“And a great eating experience can only encourage them to spread the word when they go home, as well as come back on a repeat visit.
What the ratings mean
According to the FSA, businesses that score zero tend to have a history of serious problems and are likely to be performing poorly in the three areas food safety officers inspect, which are:
How hygienically food is prepared, cooked, re-heated, cooled and stored.
The cleanliness, layout, lighting and ventilation of the building.
The systems in place to make sure food is safe for consumption.
Each rating means the following:
5 = very good
4 = good
3 = generally satisfactory
2 = improvement necessary
1 = major improvement necessary
0 = urgent improvement necessary
Poor hygiene standards can be a major contributor to food poisoning.
Breakdown of scores by local authority
16% noncompliant, average rating 4.1:
“In 2014/15, 82% of those previously rated 0-2 improved to three or above following intervention by the Food Safety Team. Good food hygiene is important in ensuring safe food for those that live, work and visit the borough if Ipswich.”
12% noncompliant, average rating 4.1:
“Ultimately the responsibility of the outlets themselves to ensure food is produced in a safe and hygienic environment that complies with the law.
“Waveney’s food and safety officers are working hard to improve food safety standards and there is some excellent work being done.”
Mid Suffolk & Babergh
10% noncompliant, average rating 4.4 (Babergh), 4.3 (Mid Suffolk):
“Our aim is to get as many food businesses as possible to be compliant businesses by not allowing others to unfairly compete through not investing properly in food safety.”
9% noncompliant, average rating 4.4:
“We welcome the fact that the vast majority of premises in our district are achieving high standards of three stars or higher. It is disappointing that some premises are not yet up to the desired standard and Suffolk Coastal joins with the Food Standards Agency in urging people to ‘look before booking’.”
7% noncompliant, average rating 4.5:
“The scheme is a really good advertisement for businesses that comply with food hygiene law – good food hygiene means a good hygiene rating and a good hygiene rating is good for business.
5% noncompliant, average rating 4.5:
“The high number of premises in Colchester with the top food hygiene rating clearly shows that the ratings scheme has a positive effect in encouraging food establishments to strive to improve and become good or very good.”
5% noncompliant, average rating 4.5:
“It is important that inspections are carried out so the council can work closely with those who are falling below the required standards to help them up their game This is both important for the businesses success and for customers so that they can make informed choices of where to eat or buy their food.”
4% noncompliant, average rating 4.5:
“Forest Heath was the first Suffolk authority to launch the scores on the doors scheme in 2007 and this proved highly successful in encouraging food establishments to make improvements with their level of compliance and provided customers with a more informed choice when eating out or buying food.”
Zoom in to see the scores for your local restaurants. The map can also be found here: www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zAav7Or0oGMI.kZWRWZyrgBII&usp=sharing