It’s voluntary – but it’s mandatory, too!

“As if there wasn’t enough red tape!” could easily be the cry from across Wales as they become the first country in the UK to have mandatory hygiene ratings on display in all pubs and food businesses. The Act will require food businesses to prominently display their ‘rating card’ and the Local Authorities will have the task of enforcing the scheme.

Cynical members of the population might suggest that this is another ‘tax’ or another way for Big Brother to keep watch on every move by over-regulation. The FSA have a section on their website dedicated to explaining what it’s all about with a helpful FAQ section that details the answers to the questions they feel people will be asking. The answers to the many stock-type queries are clearly written in ‘official-speak’ type lingo with innocuous phrases and correct terms like ‘encourage’ and ‘support’ and so on. It’s the type of material Rhod Gilbert would have a field day with if he took the trouble to read it.

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The ‘Scores on Doors‘ has begun, whether it is welcomed or feared. Soon there will be little green stickers with black and white numbers appearing on restaurants and pubs near you. The higher the score, the safer the food is to consume  (according to some local inspector). The carrot and stick thinking is that the lower the score, the more the incentive the owner has to ‘up his performance’ in order to prevent possible customers giving him the cold shoulder.

The inspector will be looking for things like how hygienically the food is prepared, cooked, re-heated and stored. He’ll also look at the conditions of the structure of building – cleanliness, layout, lighting, ventilation etc. One wonders how many of the traditional old buildings will fare, many of them listed, that have been home to pubs and restaurants for hundreds of years.

Another item under his scrutiny will be on how well the business manages its operation with regard to records and keeping food ‘safe.’ This aspect is where establishments and chains who use stocktaking firms like Rutters have got an advantage over those who are trying to play catch up. With careful and sustained planning, structure and foresight, Jon Rutter and his team of professionals continue doing what they can to ensure their clients are ahead of the wave in the hospitality industry. So when a situation erupts over food standards or labelling, there are well established businesses able to ensure the public have no concerns if they choose to visit and enjoy their hospitality.

But with all of this careful scrutiny going on and this ‘Scores on Doors’ announcement, how long will it take for all pubs, restaurants and food establishments to be graded? Will the public’s perception be that if there is no score yet displayed on their Local’s door, that it has not come up to scratch? Or will they all rush off to the FSA’s website to get clarification?

And are there enough local inspectors who have now been tasked with this rating assessment, to complete the job as well as continue with their other functions. Or is this another employment creation opportunity? If so, how will they be trained in this demanding field? Will the Local Councils have to find the funds to pay them out of an ever dwindling purse?

It won’t be surprising if someone asks the question: “If this is mandatory, why is it referred to as the voluntary food hygiene rating system?”

So, if it’s called something like “Scores on Doors,” it must be OK – because it’s a catchy phrase!

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