Factsheet: Food hygiene inspections and ratings

By on 26/05/2015 in Factsheets, News

Bars, cafes, pubs and restaurants – in fact any premises serving food – in Birmingham are routinely inspected by our environmental health officers to ensure they comply with food hygiene and safety laws and regulations.

These inform the food hygiene ratings published by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and displayed by premises.

This factsheet sets out answers to the most common questions on food hygiene ratings and inspection of food businesses.

Why are food businesses rated for hygiene?
The main aim of the Food Hygiene Rating System is to reduce the incidence of foodborne illness – nationally there are around one million cases recorded a year, including 20,000 hospitalisations and 500 deaths.

There are more than 7,500 food businesses operating across Birmingham, all of which are regularly inspected by our environmental health officers.  They are assessed in relation to its overall level of hygiene before being awarded a score of between 0 (the lowest) and 5 (very good).

Most food businesses in Birmingham operate to a good standard, but if they fall below satisfactory standards, our officers carry out revisits, and take proportionate enforcement action to ensure that standards are improved.

These ratings are then published on FSA website and premises are also given a certificate to display.

What do environmental health officers look for when inspection premises?
The food safety officer inspecting a business will check how well the business is meeting the law by looking 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 to eat and not contaminated.
  • Whether there is an imminent risk to public health – ie where pest activity or infestations are found on the premises.

What is the difference between a 0 rating and a 5 rating?
Premises can be awarded one of six ratings ranging from 0, which means urgent improvement is needed, to a top rating of 5, where a business has achieved ‘very good’ hygiene standards. Any food business should be able to achieve a 5 rating.

A business with a five rating is deemed to be fully compliant with food safety and hygiene legislation and the officer is not requiring any improvements to be carried out.

Where premises are rated 0, this generally indicates very poor conditions leading to actual risk of injury to consumers. In circumstances such as these the business is likely to have been closed or other enforcement action is proposed.

For clarity, when a premises receives a 0 rating it does not mean automatic closure by officers.                                                                      

Where improvements are needed, a food safety officer will set out an action plan of work that needs to be done in order to achieve compliance with legislation and improve their rating.

Most food businesses in Birmingham operate to a good standard, but if they fall below satisfactory standards, our officers carry out revisits, and take proportionate enforcement action to ensure that standards are improved.

Where premises pose an imminent risk to health – eg where there is an active rodent infestation, severe drainage problems or filthy conditions – officers will act to close a business down immediately until it has rectified the problems. This usually takes a few days to allow the business to bring in proper systems and carry out necessary treatment and repairs.

On average, Birmingham City Council takes emergency action on about 40 food businesses – from around 3,000 inspections – each year. Therefore, a very small proportion of serious problems are identified in food businesses and dealt with quickly.

Why are premises not closed if they receive a 0 or 1 rating?
Where a business has a 0 rating, a closure of the business is a likely outcome. Once improvements have been made to remove any imminent risk, the business is permitted to reopen.

The premises will remain 0-rated until the next scheduled inspection or they request a revisit for rescoring, this cannot be carried out until at least three months after the initial inspection. Businesses can only request one rescoring revisit between scheduled inspections.

In all cases where a business has a 0 or 1 rating officers continue to take appropriate action, including enforcement where necessary, until improvements have been met.

How often are food businesses inspected?
Hotels, restaurants, takeaways, food retailers and manufacturers are all included in a regular inspection programme with premises visited every six months to two years.

Premises are rated A to D according to the level of risk, which sets the frequency of visits:

  • Category A:          Every six months
  • Category B:          Every 12 months
  • Category C:          Every 18 months
  • Cateogry D:          Every 24 months

In addition to routine inspections, officers also respond to enquiries and concerns raised by customers who may be concerned about conditions they see in food businesses they visit.

Can food businesses appeal hygiene ratings if they don’t agree?  If so, how would they go about this?
If a business disagrees with the rating it receives they have 14 days, from receipt of their notification letter, to lodge an appeal.  Forms to lodge an appeal can be downloaded here.

A member of the food safety team will then review the rating and reply to the business within seven working days with the outcome of that review.

Where conditions at a food premises pose an imminent risk to public health and it has been closed, officers will carry out enforcement revisits – often on a daily basis – to ensure emergency works are completed so it can reopen safely.

Premises challenging their rating can request one rescoring revisit between scheduled inspections. This cannot be carried out until at least three months after the initial inspection. There is then a ‘stand still’ period of 28 days to allow for notification and any appeal before the rating is published on the Food Standards Agency website.

Where can people access information and reports about a premise’s rating?                    

To find a food business’s FSA rating, visit:   http://ratings.food.gov.uk/

What can consumers do if they have concerns about a food business?
If consumers wish to report any food hygiene issues they can do this via our website www.birmingham.gov.uk/environmental-health

The council continues to work co-operatively with food businesses but will always, when required, take appropriate enforcement action to protect consumers and public health.

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