Updated: Jan 27
If you’re wondering whether it’s mandatory or not to display your food hygiene rating, the short answer is - it depends.
If your food business operates in Wales or Northern Ireland, then you are legally required to display your rating on a prominent place. This could be on the front door or window of the site.
If, on the other hand, your business is located in England, then you are not legally required to display your score, although the Food Standards Agency encourages you to do so.
For information on the food hygiene scheme in Scotland (which is different from the above) - check out the Food Standards Scotland website.
What is the food hygiene rating scheme?
The food hygiene rating scheme is run by the Food Standards Agency in partnership with local authorities in Wales, Northern Ireland and England. The scheme gives businesses a food hygiene score so that consumers can make more informed decisions about where to eat.
The scores are decided by environmental health officers after the premises have been inspected, and assess compliance with food safety regulations and requirements. Ratings are usually given to places where food is sold / consumed, such as restaurants, coffee shops, food stalls, supermarkets and schools.
The Food Standards Agency’s mission is to use their “expertise and influence so that people can trust that the food they buy and eat is safe and what it says it is”. As such, the food hygiene rating scheme is fundamentally an initiative that encourages food businesses to improve their hygiene standards to ensure the food they sell is safe to eat.
What does each score mean?
There are six different food hygiene scores you can get, which reflect how good your business’ hygiene standards are. They’re essentially a snapshot of what an environmental health officer observes at the time of inspection, including the cleanliness of your facilities, how food is handled, and how food safety is managed, among other things.
Below are the scores you can achieve and their respective meaning:
0 – urgent improvement is required
1 – major improvement is necessary
2 – some improvement is necessary
3 – hygiene standards are generally satisfactory
4 – hygiene standards are good
5 – hygiene standards are very good
Scores between 0 and 2 are seen as a failing grade, and you need to take action to solve food safety breaches. If you have a score of 0, that means it’s not safe for people to eat at your establishment.
The best rating you can get is 5, which means that you fully comply with the law and that you are following and maintaining very good standards of food hygiene.
Why you should display your food hygiene score
If your food business is located in Wales or Northern Ireland, the law dictates that you have to display your food hygiene rating. However, if you are in England, you don’t have to legally display your score - but there are a few strategic reasons why you may want to do so.
According to independent research commissioned by the FSA (2018), approximately a third of food establishments report that displaying their score “has had a positive impact upon their business”. Why is this?
The reality is that customers care about food hygiene ratings. In fact, 73% of consumers report that they used these scores to “help make decisions about where to eat or buy food”, according to the FSA’s Consumer Attitudes Tracker (2019). This means that customers may decide to buy from your restaurant or coffee shop depending on what rating you have, which directly impacts demand for your business.
Having your rating displayed prominently on your establishment tells customers that you take food hygiene seriously, providing reassurance that what you’re selling is safe for them to eat.
A good food hygiene rating is good business.
Worried about a low food hygiene rating?
To get a high score, you must do well in the three elements that make up the rating:
How hygienically the food at the premises is handled (e.g. cooking and storage)
The physical condition of the premises (e.g. cleanliness and pest control)
How the business manages food safety (e.g. records and training)
EHOs assess these three elements during inspections. If your business hasn’t received a good rating, the EHO will explain where things went wrong. This should then inform the food hygiene improvements you need to make, and what steps need to be taken.
Securing a good hygiene rating isn’t always straightforward though. In fact, it can be quite daunting. If you are concerned about your rating, you may want to consider enlist the help of food safety consultants and schedule regular external audits. Audits are a great way of exposing any areas of weakness and non-conformities - and a great way to get practical advice on how to fix them. This way, you can always be prepared for when an inspection takes place.
Another benefit of food hygiene audits is that they demonstrate your commitment to improving your food safety standards and highlight your due diligence.
For many food businesses, the most pressing concern is paperwork. This is all about keeping thorough, up-to-date records of how you manage food safety and relates to the third element that makes up your rating (see list above). If you can’t seem to keep up with all the paperwork, perhaps you should think about opting for a digital food hygiene diary instead. There is a plethora of new smart solutions that make it easier for teams to record all their checklists, temperatures, deliveries and allergens.
Ian Waller, head chef of Restaurant Pine, says that the food hygiene app he’s using has “smashed it and got us a 5-star hygiene rating” and that “the local food safety authorities were very impressed with how it works”. Additionally, Anthony Hood, the CEO of Farm Girl, explains that the digital solution he’s chosen “has been super beneficial in helping us keep on top of things. It is also great for the team members as they know the management can see it all, which encourages staff to fulfil all the checks”.
In short, opting for a digital solution instead of paper-based options can give users greater oversight of their operations, cut costs and save precious time that can be allocated to other tasks. It makes it more engaging and easier for staff to complete due diligence checks and report on any issues.
Tips for making the most of your rating
Proud of your high food hygiene rating? There are a few key actions you can take to make the most of it.
Consider including your rating in your marketing materials and promotional efforts, including your website, leaflets, social media and even on your menu. This shows customers that you care about food safety.
You can download high-quality imagery from FSA’s toolkit so that you can capitalise on the rating you’ve worked so hard to achieve.
So - do you have to display your food hygiene rating? Is it mandatory? If you are in Northern Ireland or Wales, YES. If you are in England, NO, but you may want to display it anyway.