Is food hygiene the same as food safety? Technically, they are not the same. Although in some cases, food manufacturers use these terms...
How to get a 5-star food hygiene rating?
The food hygiene rating scheme in the UK evaluates the level of commitment of a food business to food hygiene ...
- The food hygiene rating scheme in the UK evaluates the level of commitment of a food business to food hygiene practices.
- A good food hygiene rating serves as proof to your consumers of your good food hygiene practices.
- The key to a 5-star food hygiene rating is properly implementing a food hygiene system that prioritizes the welfare of your customers.
Reviews and ratings are the backbones of every business. In the food industry, they come with an additional level of significance showing your concern for your consumer's health.
Not all food safety management systems are the same. Some fail to address certain issues that can lead to further problems and put public health at risk. As such, food safety agencies and auditing bodies have devised a way to show which food business operators are well committed to keeping food safe for everyone. This system includes giving a hygiene rating for businesses that follow standard protocols on food hygiene.
As a business that serves or sells food, you need to be able to anticipate what could go wrong with the food you are handling. With these situations at hand, you must be able to ensure that all the food you serve is safe for your customers. The easiest and most effective way to guarantee a safe and happy food experience is to put a comprehensive food safety management (FSM) system in place.
Your food safety management system includes the objective to help you achieve that 5-star hygiene rating you've been aiming for and keep your business growing! In this article, we will walk you through how these food hygiene ratings of food businesses are conducted and give you tips on how to get one fast!
How to get a food hygiene rating?
The food hygiene rating scheme was established and is monitored by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to rate UK-based food businesses on their hygiene and safety standards for food business. Food hygiene ratings are given to food businesses that comply with a certain level of standard.
The higher your rating, the safer your food and you should always aim for a 5-star rating. Food hygiene ratings allow consumers to make informed choices and help grow your business while doing that – the higher your rating, the more trust your customers have in you.
The local Environmental Health Officers, together with the guidance of the FSA, assesses your establishment based on 3 criteria before awarding you with your rating as requirements of food hygiene: hygiene, structure and confidence in management:
These criteria are described as follows:
- Hygiene describes how your food is prepared, cooked, cooled, stored and what measures are taken to prevent contamination. This aspect illustrates the sanitary conditions that your food business practices before, during and after operations.
- Structure referred to the condition of your premises in terms of cleanliness, lighting, ventilation, layout, lighting, etc. It is also evaluated based on the materials used to make these structures. Some materials such as corrugated ones harbor dust and are harder to clean than soft and smooth surfaces.
- Confidence in management is the aspect that shows how you manage and record what you do. This criterion includes the implementation of food hygiene practices in your business and the level of commitment you apply.
As implied, food hygiene rating is only concerned with your practices pertaining to safety and not the quality of your products. A food safety officer is similarly not concerned with the level of your customer services and culinary skills nor the ambiance of your business setting. It's all about your approach to food safety.
How is the food hygiene rating calculated?
Food hygiene ratings are calculated on a 0-5 score basis. You are awarded a score in each area and these scores are added to give you your final rating. To get top marks for your establishment in the food health rating, you first need to ensure that you have completed everything from your previous inspection's report.
Some of the most common practices that need to be emphasised for good food hygiene rating include the following:
- food handling and processing
- working space
- management of food safety system
Your food hygiene rating will be influenced by how you have responded to these areas. If this is your second food hygiene inspection, you have to make sure that all areas for improvement pointed out by the previous auditor have been addressed. Failure to do so may bring down your “confidence in management” score.
Based on how you manage all the previously mentioned criteria, you will be awarded scores ranging from 0-5. This rating scale indicates that the best practices have been applied if you get a score of 5 and the worst if you get a score of 0. It is a significant problem if you get a 0 at any criteria that will get evaluated. This score will affect the final rating and thereby will be reflected for your customers to see.
Is a 3 hygiene rating good? How bad is a food hygiene rating 1?
Aiming for a 5-stat rating is not necessarily similar to shooting for the stars. All you have to do is comply with basic food hygiene practices. So, the next question is, what if you get a lower total hygiene rating? Is it that bad? The rating system is based on predetermined corresponding meanings to the numerical rating values. To help you gauge if you are doing good in terms of hygiene practices, here is the list of rating scores you can get:
5 - very good food hygiene rating
4 - good food hygiene rating
3 - generally satisfactory food hygiene rating
2 - improvements are required for food and hygiene rating
1 - major improvement is required for food and hygiene rating
0 - urgent improvement is required
To answer your question about whether a rating of 3 hygiene rating is good or not, this rating is very neutral. This may mean that customers will choose food establishments with a higher rating. No food business wants to be the second choice. That being said, it's much worse to get a rating of 1. If you ever get this as your total rating, chances are, you are at the bottom of a consumer's list of choices.
Getting a low food hygiene rating must alert your whole food safety team. This issue can become more worrisome if left unattended and can cause you to receive penalties in the future. Use a reliable FSM system that is based on the principles of HACCP to ensure that your food hygiene programme is working.
Tips to achieve a 5-star food hygiene rating
If you are preparing for your first-ever food hygiene inspection or are aiming to get reevaluated for getting a low score, we have listed some tips you can follow to achieve that 5-star rating.
- Ensure your food is prepared in a hygienic manner. Employ safe food preparation practices to guarantee that no contamination occurs during food preparation. This includes using the correct cooking temperatures and the kitchen staff wearing the correct protective clothing.
- Ensure that raw foods and cooked foods are stored in separate places. In addition, make sure that food does not go past its expiration date and that your staff knows how to store food safely and avoid contamination. Always apply the FIFO system or the first-in-first-out system to avoid storing foods way past their expiration dates. In addition, set up proper pest management controls to maintain hygienic and sanitary conditions in storage areas.
- Allow your employees to undergo food hygiene training and seminars. Knowledge about how food hygiene is maintained or breached is essential to know how to control them. Some training sessions include introducing some of the most common food hygiene practices. For advanced level training, principles and concepts of food contamination are also taught. Similarly, refresher courses must always be conducted to ensure that the knowledge of your employees is fresh and well updated. If you are reopening after a long closure, refresher training should be undertaken, even if the official training is not yet out of date.
- A clean food handling environment is the ultimate basis for getting a 5-star hygiene rating. Around a third of your food hygiene marks are given for cleanliness and structure. This means following a strict waste management system, setting up a cleaning schedule (including time for deep cleans) and sticking to it 100%. One of the best ways to keep up with your cleaning schedules is to adopt smart software that can remind you of your daily tasks so you won't forget them. Try our built-in HACCP software builder and get these useful features.
- All documents pertaining to food hygiene must be updated and well-written. Accurate records are another vital element. Amongst other data, your records usually include staff training dates, cleaning schedules, temperature checks, etc. These documents will serve as proof of your compliance with food hygiene regulations in addition to the state of your operations. Switching to digital records makes your documents readily available to everyone who needs to access them and saves you time.
How long does a food hygiene rating last?
The frequency of a food hygiene inspection varies from six months to two years depending on a number of factors. Some factors considered in determining the time between visits from inspectors include the level of risk of your production and your previous record on regular food hygiene inspections. Should your team fail to meet excellent scores, you may be rescheduled for another food hygiene inspection.
Regardless of your score in an inspection, local authorities can drop by to conduct unannounced food hygiene inspections. Other cases that can lead to an unannounced inspection include reports that have been made pertaining to your business operations by other businesses or individuals.
The primary inspection frequency is based on the following factors:
- Type of product
- Target consumer groups (e.g. vulnerable groups)
- Process operations
- Level of food hygiene standards being implemented.
What happens if your business gets a 0 rating?
It's quite disheartening to receive a very low score, let alone a 0 rating on your food hygiene audit. This scenario only proves that there are many rooms for improvement in terms of your food hygiene practices. Upon receiving a low score, you are expected to redeem yourself by improving on the suggested fields from your food hygiene auditor. That is correct, getting a 0 rating does not necessarily mean that your food business will be forcibly closed down.
There are rare circumstances when your food business will be mandated to close down. Some reasons which could lead to temporary closure include the possibility that the auditor finds any reason that you might potentially continue operating without fixing your previous issues; and if the discovered food hygiene issues are too grave. Your food hygiene rating is most likely to be redeemed once you supply evidence of improvements made to your food hygiene system. To do this, you must request a re-visit for a new rating from a food safety inspector.
Depending on your strategy of how to address a low score, some businesses choose to voluntarily stop operations and fix their food hygiene issues first. One of the best ways to prevent this from happening is to give your employees the proper training and orient them on the significance of food hygiene.
Food hygiene training
Several courses and online training are available to guide you in addressing the present food safety issues in your operations. Undergoing training gives your team an advantage in knowing how important it is to practice food hygiene. Most training courses provide certifications as proof of completion especially those conducted by accredited food hygiene certification bodies. Food hygiene training courses are categorised into 4 different levels depending on the objective of the training.
Training courses commonly vary from level 1 to 3 with increasing complexity as the level becomes higher. Some food hygiene certification bodies offer the 4th level of food hygiene training and are dedicated to managers or heads who are concerned with building food safety strategies in the company. Below are brief descriptions of the levels of food hygiene training.
Level 1 food hygiene training is dedicated to your employees who work directly with the consumers by serving the food but without any direct involvement in its preparation.
Level 2 food hygiene training is for food handlers with direct contact with the product during its processing.
Level 3 food hygiene training contains additional materials pertaining to the implementation system of food hygiene practices.
Additional: Level 4 food hygiene training is for managerial positions involved in controlling food safety. This training includes technical information on the principles of hazards and their control.
How to display a rating online?
Approximately after 14 days from the time of inspection, you are expected to receive your results. Food hygiene ratings are commonly posted here. In case of disputes in result, the final rating of your business on the Food Standards Agency website can become a bit delayed.
In addition to the online display of your food hygiene rating, the FSA provides stickers that indicate the overall rating you achieved after the inspection. This rating contains numbers from 0 to 5. In Northern Ireland and Wales, all food establishments are required to post this sticker where it is visible and easily noticed for awareness such as in customer entrances. On the other hand, regulatory agencies in England do not require this but food establishments are encouraged to do so.
What is the purpose of a food safety management system?
Food safety management systems like HACCP have been developed over recent decades to equip the food industry with first-rate tools for controlling food safety. It is a legal requirement to have an FSM system in place as the government wants to achieve its public health goals. Food safety is part of the bigger picture.
Your HACCP plan is designed to reduce food safety risks to an acceptable level or to eliminate specific food safety hazards entirely. In recent years, technology has lent a helping hand to making food handling a lot safer for everyone.
Benefits of digital technology
Kitchens are fast-paced areas. The staff that prepares and cooks meals has a heavy workload. The legal requirement to complete daily paper checklists notably impacts their productivity and time. Additionally, making amendments to incomplete records is time-consuming for the managers. On top of this, paper records need storage space and extra preparation time for when the regulators show up. A traditional HACCP plan is known to require a lot of paperwork.
Food safety audits that report poor outcomes often identify inadequate temperature monitoring and incomplete paper-based records. You try to do your best but having a 100+ page paper log in the kitchen is not good to prevent a food safety incident. Paper logs come with many risks and limitations and are now considered an old-fashioned and inefficient way of monitoring, not to mention their uncanny ability to slow everyday business activity. Replacing paper logging with digital technology frees up valuable time for your staff and enables them to be more productive, while food safety is being monitored in a reliable manner.
At FoodDocs, we have developed the first-ever automatic and built-in HACCP plan builder in the food industry. Our objective is to help you get through the tasks involved in making a HACCP plan which includes the maintenance and improvement of your food hygiene practices. What's great is that one of our mobile app features allows your team to input daily tasks and remind them which ones need to be achieved on time.
Here are some reasons for you to try out our digital solutions at FoodDocs.
Our digital system helps to ensure compliance by using data-logging equipment that provides temperature data, time and date stamps. Since digital monitoring of data can be immediately analysed, using sensors to collect temperature data from different equipment reduces the likelihood of inconsistent measurements or delays in recording because you will be immediately notified of out-of-range readings and missed checks.
When the temperature sensors pick up a change in the environmental conditions, your staff are immediately alerted through our mobile app. They can notice issues before they become critical, quickly transfer food to appropriate storage areas or throw away food that does not meet standards of food hygiene, reducing the risk of waste, recalls, withdrawals and retrievals. That is time and money saved and it also benefits the environment. Big time.
Using our food safety software, all logged information is either stored in the cloud, internally or transferred to external storage through a wireless connection. You can access it immediately when needed and don't need to dedicate time to it in the future.
#4 Audit readiness:
Traceability of all your food products is readily accessible. The complete recorded history of your sensor readings, schedules and staff training updates. In addition, all needed documents are prepared for you as proof of your compliance with food hygiene regulations.
Automating a large number of food safety management procedures allows you to make your entire operations more efficient. All data captured is immediately visible to everyone, while notifications are sent regarding document and certificate due dates. These features mean less time spent looking for things, dates and the correct folders.
Digital food safety software enables you to monitor the state of your kitchen operations in real-time. Reviewing digital data makes spotting various trends easier and clearer and improves necessary performance procedures quicker. All this data that is now available to you, also helps you make better strategic decisions for your establishment.
Investment into digital food safety software gives you the confidence that you can manage food safety in the most sensible, secure and effective way and get you that ace 5-star rating you deserve!
Check out our main article on food hygiene for more information.