LONDON – The UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) is rolling out a national food hygiene rating scheme designed to help consumers choose the safest places to dine or do their food shopping. The bright green-and-black, food-hygiene stickers showing a rating from zero to five will soon be a feature of shopping centers and high streets, as the FSA, in partnership with local authorities, rolls out its Food Hygiene Rating Scheme throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The intent of this new system is to reduce the 1 million cases of food poisoning suffered by people in the UK each year.

The stickers will indicate how good the hygiene standards are at places where people can eat or buy food, including restaurants, cafés, takeaways and supermarkets. Following inspections by local council food-safety officers, the hygiene standards are rated on a scale ranging from zero at the bottom (which means ‘urgent improvement necessary’) to a top rating of five (‘very good’).

A snapshot survey, recently conducted for the FSA, indicates more than eight in 10 members of the public (86%) consider hygiene standards to be extremely important when eating out, significantly outweighing other considerations such as price and location. At least one-fifth of people questioned said they had, when eating out, sent food back for hygiene-related reasons, such as undercooked poultry (23%) and dirty plates (22%), increasing to around one in three who reported sending back undercooked meat (29%).

People interviewed for the FSA research indicated they primarily judge hygiene standards of places where they eat or buy food on the appearance of an establishment (68%), appearance of staff (44%), cleanliness of toilets (33%) and word of mouth/reputation (22%).

The hygiene rating given to a food business will give customers a glimpse into the areas they don’t normally see to get an idea of what’s going on in the kitchen or behind the scenes. Ratings are available for anyone to view at food.gov.uk/ratings.

“Many people suffer from food poisoning every year, but we shouldn’t feel we are gambling with our health when we eat out,” said Jeff Rooker, chair of the FSA. “In developing this scheme, we wanted to give people the ability to judge for themselves whether they considered the hygiene standards of a food outlet to be good enough. If customers are looking for a hygiene rating, this will drive businesses to improve their standards.”