Scores on the doors will highlight poor hygiene in local restaurants
The results of restaurant hygiene inspections are to be made public after a landmark verdict by the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas. under the Freedom of Information Act which came into practice earlier this year, Mr Thomas ordered a local council to make public its reports on the health and safety of restaurants it had inspected thus setting a precedent, making it very difficult for other councils to keep secret their inspection reports.
Traditionally, such reports have not been published, as councils have argued that disclosure could damage the commercial prospects of restaurant owners whilst others welcome the openness claiming "The public has a right to know what health inspections discover. Well-run restaurants have nothing to fear - and much to gain - from public scrutiny. Publishing inspection reports will put pressure on restaurants to raise their standards."
Hammersmith and Fulham already publish the reports after Which?, the consumers' rights organisation, complained to the commissioner. Nick Stace, campaigns director of Which? said "Eating out at the moment is a lottery for people who have no way of knowing whether their chosen restaurant is clinically clean or swimming in filth,".
Which? now wants to persuade all local councils to adopt a "scores on the doors" system, under which the public could see inspection results displayed at restaurant entrances. "This would not only help consumers make more informed choices, but would also help drive up hygiene standards," Mr Stace said.
The scheme, co-ordinated by Food Standards Agency, is currently being piloted in London with details of restaurants in the capital appearing online from April next year with the reports compiled by local hygiene inspectors available on council websites.
Restaurants will be given star ratings based on factors like food hygiene and handling practices, management and how structured the place is meaning before heading out to eat, diners will be able to check their destination - by restaurant name, by area and, eventually, by cuisine type.
Michelin starred restaurants, small sandwich shops, local takeaways and even supermarkets will have their environmental health reports will be laid bare for all to see. However, with a two week waiting time for results, diners may have to forfeit spontaneous dining out. “Scores on the Doors” is no doubt good news for the consumer and can only serve to raise standards however, how much attention will locals pay to this information? Whilst many restaurateurs welcome the idea, they fear that too much detail could confuse diners.
Editor of Harden’s Guides Peter Harden said "It's probably a good thing. Knowing that the customers are going to get this information will move hygene up the priority scale, particularly for the chain restaurants."
What do we do in the meantime? "It's an old adage, and not perfect, but the states of the loos are a very good test. If they're not organised enough to keep the loos clean, it tells you all you need to know about their hygiene."
October 13, 2006