Scores on the Doors: how food hygiene ratings work

Updated on 25 April 2016 | 0 Comments

Ever wondered what those stickers on restaurant, takeaway and pub doors really mean?

If you’re thinking about getting a takeaway or eating out you can do loads of research online. You can see the menus, read reviews from other people and even see how clean the establishment is, courtesy of the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

It runs the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and the Food Hygiene Information scheme in Scotland. You might know them better (outside of Scotland) as Scores On The Doors – the black stickers displayed in many restaurant, pub and takeaway windows (but usually only if they score well).

And the scheme is back in the news following a BBC investigation, which found nearly one in 10 establishments score a rating of two or less.

How do the schemes work?

Local authorities, in partnership with the Food Standards Agency, inspect food serving establishments. They’re specifically looking at how hygienic the business is.

The food safety officer will look at:

  • 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 and records what it does to make sure food is safe.

If the business is in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, it will be given a score out of five based on the visit.

If a business gets a 0 or 1, they need to make some urgent improvements fast.

In Scotland, a business will either be given a Pass or an Improvement Required rating. If it receives the latter, it will need to take steps to improve.

Does a food business have to display the sticker?

No, legally it doesn’t, although most businesses that score highly do very prominently. Obviously if you can’t see one, that might raise questions in your mind about the hygiene inside.

However, even if there’s no sticker, you can find out how a place scores by searching for it on the FSA website or by downloading the iPhone or Android phone apps.

It isn’t exhaustive as some places haven’t been visited yet but it looked fairly comprehensive from my brief searching.

I searched for a few of the takeaways I frequented in my younger days and all of them scored a 1. So far, so unsurprising, you might say (if you knew what type of establishments they were).

What was more surprising was a very good gastropub that I ate lunch at just a few short weeks ago also scored a 1. I certainly wouldn’t question its cleanliness based on my visit, but then of course I went nowhere near the kitchen or food storage areas. Having said that, I don't think it would put me off a return visit, but I might be in the minority.

If you want to know more about why an establishment has a particular rating, you can submit a Freedom of Information request to the FSA.

What do you think?

So my questions to you are: if you discovered a food establishment you were planning to visit had a low score, would you still eat there?

And what about if it was a favourite eating establishment? Would it put you off returning?

Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section.

This article has been updated since its original publication

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