Last updated on 1 May 2013
Food Hygiene Rating Scheme
Some questions and answers about the scheme run in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The scheme helps you choose where to eat out or shop for food by giving you information about the hygiene standards in restaurants, pubs, cafés, takeaways, hotels and other places you eat, as well as supermarkets and other food shops.
It’s not easy to judge hygiene standards on appearance alone, so the rating gives you an idea of what’s going on in the kitchen, or behind closed doors. You can check the ratings and use the information to switch to or choose a place with higher standards. It’s also good to share this information with friends and family.
The scheme also encourages businesses to improve hygiene standards.
The scheme is run by local authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in partnership with the Food Standards Agency.
Local authorities are responsible for carrying out inspections of food businesses to check that they meet the requirements of food hygiene law. They give businesses food hygiene ratings based on the findings of inspections and then publish this information on the Food Standards Agency’s website.
The Food Standards Agency is the UK government department responsible for food safety. It gives local authorities advice, training, and other support to help them run the scheme.
The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme is run in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. A similar scheme is run in Scotland.
The scheme is also running in all areas of Northern Ireland.
In England, it is expected that the scheme will be running in in all but one local authority by spring 2014
The Food Standards Agency is working with the one remaining local authority in England that has not yet committed to the scheme to encourage it to join so you can compare hygiene ratings for food businesses in your local area and in all other areas around the country.
A different scheme called the ‘Food Hygiene Information Scheme’ is run in Scotland. When this scheme was tried out and tested in Scotland, the public, food businesses and local authorities in that country said they wanted the scheme to continue there.
Ratings are given to places where you can eat out such as restaurants, takeaways, cafés, sandwich shops, pubs, and hotels.
Ratings are also given to other places you eat away from home, such as schools, hospitals and residential care homes.
Places where you shop for food, such as supermarkets, bakeries, and delicatessens are also given a rating.
Some places where you might eat away from home or buy food are not given a rating. This is generally because they are a low risk to people’s health, for example, a newsagent selling only wrapped sweets. These businesses might be listed on this website, and will be shown to be ‘exempt’ from the scheme.
Childminders and businesses that offer caring services at home are not given ratings.
A food safety officer inspects a business to check that it meets the requirements of food hygiene law. The officer is from the local authority where the business is located.
At the inspection, the officer will check:
- how hygienically the food is handled – how it is prepared, cooked, re-heated, cooled and stored
- the condition of the structure of the buildings – the cleanliness, layout, lighting, ventilation and other facilities
- how the business manages what it does to make sure food is safe and so that the officer can be confident standards will be maintained in the future
Each of these three elements is essential for making sure that food hygiene standards meet requirements and the food served or sold to you is safe to eat.
The hygiene standards found at the time of inspection are then rated on a scale. At the bottom of the scale is ‘0’ – this means urgent improvement is required. At the top of the scale is ‘5’ – this means the hygiene standards are very good.
If the top rating is not given, the officer will explain to the person who owns or manages the business what improvements need to be made and what action they can take to improve their hygiene rating.
The food hygiene rating reflects the hygiene standards found at the time the business is inspected by a food safety officer. These officers are specially trained to assess food hygiene standards.
A business can be given one of these ratings.
The rating given shows how well the business is doing overall but also takes account of the element or elements most in need of improving (see ‘How is a hygiene rating worked out?’ above) and also the level of risk to people’s health that these issues pose. This is because some businesses will do well in some areas and less well in others but each of the three elements checked is essential for making sure that food hygiene standards meet requirements and the food served or sold to you is safe to eat.
To get the top rating of ‘5’, businesses must do well in all three elements.
Those with ratings of ‘0’ are very likely to be performing poorly in all three elements and are likely to have a history of serious problems. There may, for example, be a lack of sufficient cleaning and disinfection, and there may not be a good enough system of management in place to check and record what the business does to make sure the food is safe.
Yes. More detailed information will be included in the food safety officer’s inspection report. If you want to see this you could make a ‘Freedom of Information’ request to the local authority that carried out the inspection. You can find the local authority’s contact details by searching this website for the business and then clicking on the name of the business. Alternatively, you can search here for the local authority by entering the postcode for the business.
A new rating is given each time the business is inspected by a food safety officer from the local authority where the business is located.
How often inspections take place depends on the potential risk to people’s health if something goes wrong and this depends on the type of food being handled and the type of processes that are carried out before the food is sold or served to the public.
There is a greater risk if a business is, for example, preparing and serving or selling different types of both cooked and raw foods. These businesses are inspected more often than, for example, a small retailer selling a range of pre-packed foods that require only to be kept refrigerated. The time between inspections varies from six months for the highest risk business to two years for lower risk businesses. For some very low risk businesses, the interval between inspections may be greater than this.
In some cases, a business may ask its local authority for a visit to be carried out before the next planned inspection is due. This is where the business was given a rating below the top one of ‘5’ but has since made improvements to hygiene standards. This means the food safety officer can check the improvements have been made and see if a new rating should be given.
Each local authority is responsible for a large number of food businesses. This means local authorities each plan a programme of inspections every year so that the food safety officers can focus on those businesses that have poorer hygiene standards.
The plan is designed so that they inspect and rate those food outlets that represent the greatest risk to people’s health more frequently than others. For example, a takeaway preparing dishes using raw and cooked ingredients will be inspected more frequently than a business such as a small retailer selling a range of pre-packed foods that require only to be kept refrigerated.
If the local authority receives a complaint or other information about a business they are not due to inspect, and that information suggests hygiene standards are not being maintained, the local authority will investigate and may inspect the business and give it a new hygiene rating.
The rating is based on the most recent inspection.
Some types of food business present a low risk to people’s health – for example pubs that sell only drinks and crisps and similar snacks but not cooked meals. In such cases, the most recent inspection may have been some time ago. This means the local authority will monitor that the business is maintaining hygiene standards in other ways. For example, by a short visit to the premises to check things or by getting the business to complete a questionnaire. If these checks reveal anything that might indicate that hygiene standards have deteriorated, the officer will carry out an inspection and the business will get a new rating.
If you have any concerns about hygiene standards in any food outlet you have visited, you should contact the local authority. You can search here for the local authority by entering the postcode for the business.
All businesses should be able to achieve the top rating.
If they do not, the food safety officer will tell them what improvements they need to make to achieve a higher rating, and is able to give practical advice on how to make the improvements.
The Food Standards Agency has a range of tools, such as 'Safer food, better business', that can help businesses manage food hygiene and also provides general guidance on food hygiene and food law inspection. See the business and industry section of food.gov.uk.
Businesses given ratings of ‘0’ or ‘1’ must make urgent or major improvements to hygiene standards. The local authority food safety officer will use a number of enforcement tools as well as giving advice and guidance to make sure these improvements are made.
The food safety officer will also tell the business how quickly these improvements must be made and this will depend on the type of issue that needs to be addressed.
The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme means that people can choose instead to eat out or buy food at places with higher ratings and businesses with low ratings are in danger of losing customers and so will be encouraged to improve standards more quickly and to maintain these in the future.
If the officer finds that a business’s hygiene standards are very poor and there is an imminent risk to health – this means food is not safe to eat – the officer must take action to make sure that consumers are protected. This could mean prohibiting part of an operation or closing the business down.
If a takeaway or other food business has been given a rating, you can search for it at food.gov.uk/ratings.
When you eat out or shop for food in England or Northern Ireland, you might see a sticker in the window or on the door, or a certificate on display, showing you the hygiene rating for that business. Businesses in England and Northern Ireland are encouraged to display these stickers and certificates in a place where you can easily see them when you visit. If you don’t see the rating at a takeaway or other food business, you can ask a member of staff what rating was given at the last inspection.
The situation is different in Wales. Businesses that get a new rating after 28 November 2013, must by law display a sticker showing their rating in a prominent place – such as the front door, entrance or window. They must also provide information on their rating verbally if you ask either face to face or over the telephone.
The stickers and certificates will also show the date the hygiene standards were assessed by the local authority’s food safety officer.
Businesses in England and Northern do not have to display their rating. So if you see a business without a hygiene rating sticker or certificate, you’ll have to decide if you want to eat or buy food from there without knowing the hygiene standards.
Putting a hygiene rating on show is a good advertisement for businesses that meet the requirements of food hygiene law.
A good food hygiene rating is good for business.
The situation is different in Wales. Businesses that get a new rating after 28 November 2013, must by law display a sticker showing their rating in a prominent place – such as the front door, entrance or window.
If a new business has been set up, or there is a new owner, it will not have a food hygiene rating to begin with but it may display a sticker or certificate that says ‘Awaiting Inspection’. In Wales, there is a similar sticker that says ‘Rating Awaited’. A rating will be given after a local authority food safety officer has inspected the business to check the hygiene standards.
There are a number of reasons why this might be the case. Here are some examples:
- The local authority responsible for inspecting that business may not yet be running the scheme – most are but some are still preparing to launch it.
- Some local authorities are only gradually rolling out the scheme which means that they will add ratings only when businesses are next inspected so more ratings will appear over time.
- There may an issue with how the search tool works – you could check if you have spelt the name correctly or it may be the business is known under a different name, or you could try again and miss out any commas in the address.
If you can’t find any information for a business you are interested in, you should the contact the local authority responsible for inspecting that business. You can search here for the local authority by entering the postcode for the business.
Two groups of business where you or your family might eat or buy food are not given food hygiene ratings – these are ‘exempt’. These ‘exempt’ businesses are inspected by a local authority food safety officer but they are not given a rating.
The two groups of exempt businesses are:
- businesses that are a low-risk to people’s health in terms of food safety and that you perhaps wouldn’t normally think of as a food business – for example, newsagents, chemist shops or visitor centres selling tins of biscuits
- childminders and businesses that offer caring services at home
In England and Northern Ireland, these types of business can ask to receive a food hygiene rating if they wish but only details of those in the first group will be published on the website.
If a childminder or other business that offers caring services at home asks for a rating, they will be able to share this information with parents and others using their service but no information will appear at food.gov.uk/ratings. If you want to check the rating they have shared with you, you should ask to see the rating certificate or you should contact the local authority responsible for inspecting the business. You can search here for the local authority by entering the postcode for the business.
In Wales, businesses that are ‘exempt’ from a rating are set out in legislation – these are similar to the businesses in England and Northern Ireland that are ‘exempt’. The difference is that, in Wales, these businesses cannot opt to have a rating.
If you are the owner or manager of a food business and the name or address details shown on this website are wrong, you should contact the local authority that gave you the rating and ask for the necessary changes to be made.
There are a number of reasons why this might be the case. Here are some examples:
- If a business does not achieve the top rating of 5’, there is a delay before the rating is published so that if business owner thinks the rating given is unfair or wrong an appeal can be made.
- Even if the business is given the top rating and puts up the sticker in the window, there can be a short delay as the local authority might not yet have updated the website – they generally do this once every month.
If you are concerned that the business is deliberately displaying a different rating to that on the website in order to give customers the impression it has higher hygiene standards than it actually does, you should contact the local authority. You can search here for the local authority by entering the postcode for the business.
The owner or manager of the business should talk to the local authority food safety officer that inspected the business about why the rating was given.
If the business owner or manager still thinks that the rating is unfair or wrong, they can appeal in writing to their local authority’s lead officer for food.
The owner or manager of the business also has a ‘right to reply’. This is different from an appeal. This allows the owner or manager to tell potential customers how the business has improved hygiene, or to say if there were unusual circumstances at the time of the inspection. A business’s right to reply will be published online by the local authority with the business’s hygiene rating.
Yes, but only if the improvements to hygiene that the local authority food safety officer told the business about at the last inspection have been made.
You should contact the local authority that gave the rating. The name of the local authority and its contact details can be found if you search for the business here.
The local authority details are also on any certificate or the on back of any sticker on show at the shop.
Your local authority Environmental Health or Food Safety Team. You can search here for the local authority by entering the postcode for the business.
You may also wish to seek medical advice from your GP.
Yes, it is good for businesses to show their customers how seriously they take food hygiene and their local authority food safety officer can provide them with the official artwork that they can use or check out the business toolkit.
They should only display or advertise their current rating otherwise they will mislead their customers and may be committing an offence. If you have any concerns about a local business advertising a higher rating than the rating given to them, you should report this to the local authority.
Yes, we’re interested to know what you think.
You can contact us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 020 7276 8424.
If you want to write to us, please send your letter to:
Food Hygiene Ratings Team
London WC2B 6HN