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Mandatory Display of Food Hygiene Ratings Could Inform Consumers and Raise Standards

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) has renewed its call for a mandatory food hygiene rating scheme in England, which would enable consumers to make informed choices about where they eat and purchase food.

In Wales and Northern Ireland, mandatory schemes were introduced in November 2013 and October 2016 respectively, but the scheme remains voluntary in England. Only 55% of food businesses in England display their hygiene ratings, compared with 89% of businesses in Wales and 87% in Northern Ireland. Public support for mandatory display has been consistently high, with 85% of respondents in England supporting mandatory display in the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) most recent survey of UK consumer attitudes. FSA has also said that it is committed to bringing forward mandatory display of ratings in England so progress is expected this year.

The National Audit Office found that between 2012/13 and 2017/18, local authority expenditure on food hygiene fell by an estimated 19% from £125 million to £101 million and food hygiene staff numbers dropped by an estimated 13%. In 2019/20 local authorities in England had 2.9 officers per 1,000 food establishments compared with 5.5 in Wales and 4.3 in Northern Ireland.

Furthermore, there is evidence of a shortage of environmental health professionals, who work to carry out food inspections. According to the CIEH Workforce survey, local authorities in England are not funding enough training of the next generation of environmental health professionals – 56% of local authorities did not have any paid or unpaid trainees in environmental health in either 2018/19 or 2019/20 and 70% did not have a single environmental health apprentice. Not having any budget (66%) and not having capacity to mentor (52%) were the primary reasons given for not taking on any trainees.

Kate Thompson, Director of CIEH Wales:

“We have long called for the display of food hygiene ratings to be made mandatory in England. This key information would help consumers make informed decisions about where they eat and purchase food and compel food businesses to display their ratings.

Transparency when it comes to food hygiene helps to drive up standards and this has certainly been the experience of the schemes in Wales and Northern Ireland.

However, we recognise that a mandatory requirement to display ratings would need to be coupled with measures to ensure there are adequate resources in place to deliver the scheme on the ground. We know from the latest available published data that in local authorities in England did not have the equivalent level of resources for this work as those in the devolved nations.

A mandatory scheme in England would need to be adequately resourced to ensure both its credibility and sustainability. There would also need to be investment to top up training and ensure consistency in delivery of the scheme across England.”