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Customers kept in the dark about filth and rats in cafes

Customers are being kept in the dark about the filth, rats and cockroaches plaguing restaurants, councils say.

Dirty cafes, pubs, fast food outlets, bakeries and restaurants can keep their problems secret because they are not required to display hygiene scores. As a result, customers are being put at risk of serious food poisoning.

Environmental health teams score outlets from zero to five, based on factors such as kitchen cleanliness, cooking methods and food management.

But in one recent case the owner of an Essex pub and a director were ordered to pay a total of £43,358 after rats were found nesting under the fridge in its kitchen.

Restaurants are not currently required to display hygiene ratings, leading many dirty eateries to take advantage and dodge displays

And in a prosecution brought by Hillingdon Council, a West London fast food restaurant and its director were ordered to pay £19,518 when mouse droppings were found in the food preparation area.

The Local Government Association (LGA) wants ministers to improve regulation and enforcement, including requiring businesses in England to display hygiene score with prosecutions for those which do not.

Food businesses in Wales and Northern Ireland are already required to display ratings in a system that can shame outlets into cleaning up their act. LGA spokesman Simon Blackburn said the system could improve hygiene standards and consumer confidence in England.

All food premises in England should be forced to display ‘Scores on the Doors’ ratings when EU laws governing food safety are converted into UK law after Brexit to improve hygiene standards and protect people from harm, the Local Government Association urged.

Council environmental health teams score food outlets from zero to five based on factors such as kitchen cleanliness, cooking methods and food management.

Businesses in Wales and Northern Ireland are legally required to display their rating. However, in England, businesses do not have to display the rating they have been awarded, with those scoring low marks much less likely to put them on show to customers.

The government has set out its intention to convert EU law into UK law on the day we leave the European Union. With EU laws impacting many of the council services that affect people’s day-to-day lives, the LGA said councils must play a central role in deciding whether to keep, amend or scrap them.

Local government leaders say current EU laws regulating food safety – vital to improve standards and reduce the risk to people of eating unsafe food cooked in dirty kitchens – are good and need to be kept after Brexit.

But the LGA wants the Government to see Brexit as an opportunity to strengthen these food safety laws and empower councils by legally extending the mandatory display of ‘Scores on the Doors’ to England. 

This would not only improve consumer confidence and raise standards, but also reduce the need for, and therefore cost of, enforcement action by councils.

Concerns over food hygiene are heightened as the UK prepares to leave the EU following the Brexit vote

Concerns over food hygiene are heightened as the UK prepares to leave the EU following the Brexit vote

The LGA believes that businesses – including restaurants, pubs, cafes, takeaways, sandwich shops, supermarkets and delicatessens – that fail to comply should be fined or prosecuted.

Cllr Simon Blackburn, Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: ‘The conversion of EU law as part of Brexit will impact on many council services that affect people’s day-to-day lives, including how to protect people from being served unsafe food.

‘The post-Brexit review of EU laws gives the Government choices. We believe that food hygiene laws need to be strengthened, where necessary, with ‘Scores on the Doors’ ratings being a good area of opportunity to do this.

‘With mandatory hygiene rating display already in force in Wales and Northern Ireland, the UK leaving the EU provides a crucial opportunity to toughen up food safety laws by extending the legislation to England as well. 

‘Food hygiene standards and compliance levels have risen since the scheme was introduced in Wales.

‘The lack of a hygiene rating sticker in a business means customers are left in the dark on official kitchen cleanliness levels when eating or buying food there.

‘A food hygiene rating distinguishes between appearance and reality. A food outlet may have nice décor but that doesn’t mean that hygiene standards are good enough to avoid being served a ‘dodgy’ burger or salad that could pose a serious risk to someone’s health.

‘Councils have seen some shocking examples of poor or dangerous hygiene and always take action to improve standards at rogue food premises.

‘Making the display of hygiene ratings compulsory in England is good for business. Not only would it incentivise food outlets to improve or maintain high hygiene standards – which would reduce the risk of illness for customers – it would also improve consumer confidence and save taxpayers’ money by reducing the need for, and cost of, enforcement action by councils.’