Last updated on 20 March 2013
Evaluation of the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme and Food Hygiene Information Scheme
The aim of this project is to assess the impacts of the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS) and Food Hygiene Information Scheme (FHIS) on consumers, businesses, local authorities, food hygiene compliance and public health; and to assess how and why impacts are occurring.
Study duration: September 2011 to June 2014
Contractor: Policy Studies Institute
Project code: FS244011
The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS) for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the Food Hygiene Information Scheme (FHIS) for Scotland are FSA / Local Authority partnership initiatives designed to provide consumers with information about hygiene standards in food premises at the time of their most recent inspection.
The FSA is committed to an independent and robust evaluation of the FHRS/FHIS to provide evidence to help assess the effectiveness of the schemes, feed into further policy development and inform robust post implementation reviews.
Evaluation Design: Independent advice was commissioned on how best to evaluate the FHRS/FHIS. As part of this work, stakeholder workshops were utilised to help unpack the ‘theory’ underpinning the schemes, to describe the underlying causal mechanisms for change, and how these mechanisms are expected to produce desired short term and longer term outcomes. The resulting ‘theory of change’ was used to inform the evaluation design. In addition to commissioning independent advice on the evaluation design, an independent Advisory Group has also been set up to oversee the project and review key outputs and fieldwork materials.
There are two main evaluation workstreams, i) an impact evaluation assessing the impacts of the scheme and ii) a process evaluation exploring scheme operation and how it is affecting consumers, businesses and Local Authorities. Findings from both workstreams will be drawn together in the form of a synthesis report at the end of the research programme.
The specific research objectives are to provide an assessment of:
- consumer awareness and understanding of the FHRS and FHIS;
- the impact of the FHRS and FHIS on consumer behaviour;
- uptake of the FHRS and FHIS by local authorities;
- impact of the FHRS and FHIS on the local authorities’ programme of planned inspections and other visits to food businesses, and on Local Authority resources;
- businesses’ understanding of the FHRS and FHIS and impact on business turnover;
- impact of the FHRS and FHIS on business compliance levels; and
- impact of FHRS and FHIS on the incidence of foodborne illness.
This part of the evaluation aims to assess the impact of the FHRS/FHIS on the incidence of hygiene standards in businesses and foodborne illness, taking into account a range of information on Local Authority demographics and characteristics and the impact of any existing ‘local’ rating schemes. A range of existing data sources has been identified for evaluation. For example, data on business compliance with food hygiene regulations and reported cases of foodborne illness.
This part of the evaluation will be conducted in two stages. The first will cover early implementation and delivery of the schemes, and the second will focus on longer term operation and delivery. The process evaluation will include interviews with FSA and Local Authority staff and a series of case studies, covering local authorities throughout England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. The case studies will be an in depth exploration of how the FHRS and FHIS have been implemented and how the schemes are operating within a local authority area. A range of different research methods will be used to investigate the perspectives of Local Authorities, businesses and consumers. For example, further interviews with local authority staff, observation, and consumer and business surveys.
Publication of Findings
Final impact evaluation and synthesis reports are due in 2014. Full findings from the first stage of the process evaluation, which looks at early implementation of the schemes, were published in March 2013.
In the meantime, early findings on the specific issue of the display of ratings/inspection results at food premises have been drawn out of data collected for the wider evaluation exercise and summarised in an interim report.
Results and findings
Stage 1 - Early Implementation Study: Interim Report on Mandatory Display of FHRS Ratings and FHIS Inspection Results
Fieldwork was conducted between October 2011 and February 2012 and included in-depth interviews with 38 staff from 22 local authorities and six case studies of local authority areas. Each case study included further in-depth interviews with local authority staff, in-depth interviews with food businesses and consumer discussion groups. Research participant views on the current voluntary approach to FHRS rating/FHIS inspection result display and the theoretical possibility of a mandatory approach were explored during the interviews and discussion groups.
Consumer and local authority participants in FHRS/FHIS areas were generally supportive of the principle of mandatory display. Views expressed by the small number of non-adopter local authority staff interviewed were generally more supportive of voluntary display. Businesses tended to be divided on the issue, with support for mandatory display expressed by some businesses that had obtained a higher rating.
Research participants gave a number of reasons in support of a mandatory display approach. These included views that:
- mandatory display of ratings/inspection results would allow consumers to access more information directly;
- increased display of ratings/inspection results would raise consumer awareness of the scheme; and
- mandatory display would motivate some food businesses to improve food hygiene standards.
A number of concerns about mandatory display were also raised. These included:
- concerns about the implications for local authority staff workload;
- concerns about a detrimental impact on food business trade; and
- concerns about how FHRS ratings are determined or the reliability of ratings/inspection results over time.
Other issues raised were related to how mandatory display might work in practice. These issues included, for example:
- who would have responsibility for enforcing mandatory display;
- costs and time required to enforce mandatory display;
- penalties for businesses not displaying their rating/inspection result;
Key Findings of Stage 1 of the Process study
This stage considered early implementation of FHRS and FHIS, when the schemes were still relatively new, when many local authorities were still operating their own ‘local’ hygiene rating schemes and before the Agency implemented its national communications strategy.
The main findings are as follows:
- Generally local authorities recognised the benefits of a single national scheme and any barriers to adopting the scheme were practical and/or financial in nature
- FHRS/FHIS were viewed by local authorities as a tool to enhance their enforcement role. This would be further strengthened if display of ratings by food businesses became mandatory
- Consumer awareness of the scheme was generally low at this stage, but there was evidence of the FHRS influencing those who had some awareness of the scheme
- Few food business operators fully understood the details of the scheme, but there was evidence that some had made changes and improved their rating
- The Interim Report on Mandatory Display of FHRS Ratings and FHIS Inspection Results is available from the link below. Further information on the Early Implementation Study research methodology can also be found by following this link.
- Stage 1 of the Process Evaluation report with three case studies for England and 1 case study each for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can be found below at the same link