How Safe is Your Takeaway? Check their Scores on their Doors
We have never consumed so many takeaways as we do now. The increase in consumption over the last decade has accelerated year on year. Chinese, Indian, Thai, takeaway pizzas, burgers and good old fish and chips are just a fraction of those available to us. Delivery companies for a range of restaurants that have found this service, enabling them to send food out from the restaurant have resulted in a small army of cyclists, cars and motorbikes on the road. So there’s a possibility that you will not have even glanced into, or walked into the premises where your meal is sourced. If you do pick up your own, how do you know all is well in the kitchen? How can you be sure that what you’re getting is up to good food safety standards?
“Scores on the Doors” may be the answer to having a little insight into the food safety standards present in your takeaway. Scores on the Doors is officially known as the Food Hygiene Ratings, or in the food industry shortened to FHR. No food business is obliged in England to display the well known green and black sticker displaying their “score”, this is voluntary. However, the rating sticker does have to be displayed in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Scotland has its own Food Hygiene Information Scheme to display their score, but you can find all these scores online at the Food Standards Agency, they even have an app for mobiles and tablets. Visit the FSA online http://ratings.food.gov.uk.
All food businesses with their local authority by law need to be registered and have an initial inspection before trading. The scores are produced after an inspection, often called an audit, by one or more of the Food Standards Agency Environmental Health Officers. The officers are there to protect the public from food that may make people unwell, and a visit is always an opportunity for communicating and advising on current required standards.
It should be remembered that the score received is a reflection of what the Environmental Health Officer found on the day of the inspection. They will look at all paperwork associated with the food premises including records showing storage, preparation, cooking and holding temperatures, cleaning schedules, staff hygiene and training, suppliers, pest control and maintenance of premises including ventilation and lighting essentially anything that appertains to the production of any and all elements of food production. The rating relates to safety, NOT quality. This can be a complex inspection, or very simple. There will be a considerable difference between the international high volume food manufacturer and a lunch time cafe, but all regardless of size will get an inspection.
So what do the scores actually mean? The scores applied to the premises can be anything from zero to five. Five is the top score: this is what you would hopefully get at any of your takeaways, zero is the worst score.
5 Hygiene standards are very good 4 Hygiene standards are good 3 Hygiene standards are generally unsatisfactory 2 Improvement is necessary 1 Major improvement necessary 0 Urgent improvement is necessary
Inspections performed since April 2016 have links online at the FSA to a summary report identifying the three main areas and how the business performed in these areas.* It could make interesting reading for your favourite takeaways.
1. How hygienically the food is handled – how it is prepared, cooked, re-heated, cooled and stored 2. The physical condition of the business – including cleanliness, layout, lighting, ventilation, pest control and other facilities 3. How the business manages ways of keeping food safe, looking at processes, training and systems to ensure good hygiene is maintained. The officer can then assess the level of confidence in standards being maintained in the future.
* Source Food Standards Agency
How else can you stay safe? Apart from checking the results of an audit from the environmental health, you can also keep a keen eye on practices if you’re visiting the food outlet. Look for good personal hygiene, hand washing, clean uniforms and long hair tied back to protect the food. Are the food handlers touching the food they serve or are they using tongs? Are the food handlers handling money and serving food without washing their hands? Do the surfaces look clean? If in doubt, don’t purchase! Most food businesses are compliant with food safety laws, and most are there to build their business and keep a happy customer base, so they will do everything in their power to keep the food safe. Don’t worry unnecessarily about food safety, with a few common-sense checks you can confidently eat your takeaway!